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Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie

A shot of two very iconic bowler hats on a hatstand opens the film, kicking off a bravura tracking shot that introduces Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in Hollywood at the height of their success. Natural performers, they play up to their head scratching and finger twiddling big screen personas as they interact with passers by on their way to the studio set where Way Out West is being shot in 1937 and where they are about to perform their celebrated At the Ball, That’s All dance.

Stan_&_Ollie_on_set

They’re two of the biggest stars in the world, and everyone loves them. It would be hard, if not impossible, for the pair to imagine that sixteen years down the line they would find it difficult to make ends meet and have to agree to embark on a variety theatre tour of Britain, hoping to revive their careers and maybe improve the chances of Stan’s proposed Robin Good screenplay being greenlit.

As they arrive for dates in Newcastle, this begins to look increasingly unlikely. Despite their legendary status, tickets sales are poor. The rise of television is one reason for the relative lack of interest and their supercilious British promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) concentrating his efforts on ‘blazing new young talent’ Norman Wisdom isn’t helping either.

Inspired by A. J. Marriot’s book Laurel and Hardy: The British Tours, Jeff Pope’s script concentrates on this late period in their careers, highlighting their on-going desire to make themselves and their audiences laugh, while also focussing on simmering resentments that can surface when the pressure mounts.

Stan_&_Ollie_hats

The film’s directed by Aberdonian Jon S. Baird, whose Filth I enjoyed – I also enjoyed the Q&A afterwards on the night of its Glasgow preview screening with Baird and Filth author Irvine Welsh making a pretty good double act themselves. That film featured an inspired piece of casting. James McAvoy was something of a left-field candidate for out of control cop Bruce Robertson, but he supplied a scorching performance that soon made it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.

Here, the casting of the two leads is even more crucial – even today, Laurel and Hardy are immediately recognisible to a majority of the planet.

Baird has again chosen wisely. John C. Reilly must have been a fairly obvious choice for Ollie. An under-rated actor who has managed to appear in some of my favourite films of the last two decades or so – Boogie Nights and We Need to Talk about Kevin for starters – he naturally exudes likeability. He’s also a little chubby, though not obese like Ollie – that’s a fat suit he’s wearing here and very realistic it looks too.

Steve Coogan takes on the role of Stan Laurel. With his ears pegged back and artificially elongated jaw, he also resembles his fellow Lancastrian enough to convince. Both actors also capture the pair’s physical mannerisms and verbal tics masterfully.

Stan & Ollie

Although there’s a ‘darling new young Queen’, this is a drab post-war Britain where rationing still exists and where pea-souper fogs are commonplace. When Stan and Laurie step onstage, though, there’s fun to be had. The tour zigzags across the country including a date at the infamous Glasgow Empire – the site of which I walked past on the way to see the film – where they perform Shine on Harvest Moon. The shows go down well and when the duo partake in some additional promotional work, ticket sales shoot up. By the time they reach London, a theatre with a bigger capacity is required.

This gives both men a real boost and they’re both also delighted when their wives arrive from the States to join them for the remainder of the tour.

Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel and Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Filth) as Lucille Hardy are often as funny as their famous husbands, constantly aiming bitter little barbs at each other. You could easily imagine a movie where they were the two central characters. ‘Two double acts for the price of one,’ Delfont quips during one of their verbal jousts.

Stan and Ollie and Wives

Just when it looks like Stan and Ollie’s luck is on the rise, Stan’s film deal falls through and Ollie suffers a heart attack while about to judge a bathing beauties competition in Worthing, an event that will prompt another not so nice mess. ‘You cannot go on stage again in your condition,’ he’s warned by a doctor.

Dates will have to be cancelled, and Stan faces a dilemma over Delfont’s plan to foist a new partner on him in the shape of Nobby Cook. Laurel & Cook? That would never work, would it?

This is an undemanding, slightly cosy though very entertaining watch, an affectionate tribute to comedy’s greatest ever duo.

I’m not sure it knew when to end and I didn’t buy into the scene where a film production company receptionist fails to recognise Laurel and then repeatedly calls him Mister Lauren but watching Coogan and Reilly recreate some classic routines is such a joy that I left the cinema happy and in the mood to rediscover some Laurel and Hardy classics.

How the film will perform at the box-office in an age of fantasy epics, superheroes and Star Wars sequels, I have no idea, although the promising news is that it has been nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards, including Steve Coogan for Best Lead Actor, while Reilly has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Stan_&_Ollie_onstage

Stan & Ollie premiered in October at the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released in America on 28 December 2018 and in Britain on 11 January 2019.

For more on the film: https://stanandollie.co.uk/

 

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Did I Dream You Dreamed About Me? (Blue Velvet)

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Blue Velvet

On first seeing Blue Velvet in 1986, David Lynch’s fourth feature became one of those rare movies that I instantly judged as a classic. I once even went to watch it one afternoon a few years later on a double bill with David Cronenberg’s The Fly at the Glasgow Film Theatre and then went back that same night for more. The only time I’ve ever did this.

Many believed my enthusiasm was misplaced. Roger Ebert awarded it a one star review and railed against the onscreen humiliations heaped upon cabaret chanteuse Dorothy Vallens played by Isabella Rossellini. The New York Post branded it as ‘one of the sickest films ever made.’ In Britain, a disgusted Mark Kermode stormed out of the cinema before the film had finished.

It’s still a damn fine watch over thirty years later, albeit not as absolutely batshit crazy as it must have struck me on its initial release. Compared to Mulholland Drive, say, it’s almost mainstream viewing, a pretty much straight story.

Seeing it again this week brought up some interesting what if scenarios?

Recently I spoke on here about a documentary on Harry Dean Stanton called Partly Fiction. Here the actor talked about how David Lynch had originally considered him for the role of Frank Booth.

The part eventually went to Dennis Hopper, a man whose career had seemed to enter a decline due to his drink and drug abuse and subsequent reputation for hellraising. Lynch was warned against hiring Hopper by a number of friends but once he discovered Hopper was sober he had no hesitations in bringing him onboard. Hopper’s Frank went on to become arguably the most grotesquely maniacal villain ever appear on the big screen.

Much as I rated Stanton as an actor, I just can’t imagine how he could have bettered the performance of Hopper. You just can’t imagine him ever reading the script and declaring to Lynch, ‘I have to play Frank because I am Frank.’ And Harry Dean Stanton would have been unlikely to have ever hit on the idea of Frank huffing nitrate oxide.

Blue Velvet - Frank Booth

Next up, David Lynch originally envisaged the part of Dorothy Vallens going to Helen Mirren but she turned it down. Instead, he met Isabella Rossellini for the first time by chance in a restaurant, not knowing who she was. ‘You could be Ingrid Bergman’s daughter,’ he reportedly said to her when they were introduced. A matter of days later he decided to opt for Rossellini, who at this point was best known as a top model rather than an actor. She had only a single-acting credit on an American movie, 1985’s White Nights, where coincidentally, she shared screen-time with Helen Mirren.

Over the years, Mirren has won numerous awards for her acting, an Oscar, two Emmys, a Golden Globe and between 1992-1994, she scooped three Baftas in a row. Rossellini, on the other hand, has a couple of Razzie nominations. Okay, to be fair, she’s also bagged a couple of relatively minor awards herself.

So, who would have been better for the part?

Somehow Rossellini is perfect as the dazed and very, very confused Dorothy. She oozes vulnerability and mystery. Where does she come from? We’re never told. In the Mysteries of Love documentary that is included in the Blu-ray package of the film, Lynch noted that in his mind now, Rossellini is the ‘only possible Dorothy’ and while I’m sure Helen Mirren would have excelled too, I have to agree.

Isabella Rossellini - Blue Velvet

Finally, while Blue Velvet was in pre-production, Lynch heard a version of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren by The Cocteau Twins (under the name of indie label 4AD’s musical collective This Mortal Coil). He fell in love with it and rates the song as one of the most beautiful ever written, an assessment I wouldn’t disagree with.

According to Jeff Aston in his book on 4AD, Facing The Other Way, as the film was being shot Lynch and Rossellini would always be listening to the song before shooting a scene.

And not only did the director decide he wanted to use the track, he also envisaged Cocteau Twins Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie miming it on stage during the party scene where Jeffrey and Sandy dance, kiss and avow their love for one other. As a big fan of the band at this point, I don’t think this was Lynch’s best ever idea. In Glasgow they were already playing largish venues like the Pavilion and Barrowlands and why they would end up playing some get-together for the straightest teenagers in the world is beyond me, a notion that’s strange even by Blue Velvet standards.

In the end, lawyers acting on behalf of the Buckley estate demanded $20,000 for the song’s use, a figure that torpedoed Lynch’s idea due to the tightness of the budget. He says this broke his heart.

He was forced to improvise. And he had luck on his side.

Isabella Rossellini was no singer and had to be taught how to perform her icy cabaret take on Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet (a song that Lynch found schmaltzy). Things didn’t go to plan with this idea and producer Fred Caruso suggested bringing in New Jersey based musician Angelo Badalamenti to help out.

Result.

That man Caruso also suggested that Lynch use some of the little sentences that resembled lyrics that he would scribble down while on set and let Badalamenti use them to write a substitute track for Song For The Siren.

The odds of a first-time lyric writer and relatively unknown music composer coming up with a song that could replace one of the finest singles of the 1980s and possibly the greatest ever cover version were huge.

But Lynch was impressed by Badalamenti’s musical idea. Especially when he heard the tune titled Mysteries of Love being sung by Badalamenti’s pal Julee Cruise, who had been influenced herself by Liz Fraser’s puirt-a-beul meets post-punk vocal delivery.

So pleased was Lynch with the resulting music that he utilised it again in the film once Frank has been dispatched and Dorothy reunited with her son and not only that, Lynch also asked Angelo to score the film act as music supervisor and, as Dennis Lim said in his Lynch biography The Man From Another Place: ‘In Badalamenti, Lynch found a partner who could do with music what he so often does in his movies: push cliches to their breaking point and find emotion in artifice.

Imagine no Badalamenti and Cruise in Lynchland. It’s impossible.

The better track for Blue Velvet?

Fraser has been called the ‘Woman With the Most Celestial Voice in Music’ although Julee Cruise’s ethereal croon makes her a serious rival in that department. Both songs would have been equally spellbinding for the scene.

This Mortal Coil’s Song to the Siren went on to feature on Lynch’s Lost Highway in 1997 although it didn’t appear on the film’s soundtrack album.

Goodbye, Nicolas Roeg

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Sadly, the death of director Nicolas Roeg was announced on Saturday. He was ninety.

Roeg made some of my very favourite films including Performance, which he co-directed with Donald Cammell, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, where he cast David Bowie as a melancholy humanoid alien, after seeing his coke-addled appearance on Alan Yentob’s Cracked Actor documentary in 1975. A typically inspired (and brave) decision.

Roeg’s works often featured visual pyrotechnics along with non-linear storytelling. He was a unique talent, often cruelly ignored in his latter years, his 2007 adaptation of the Fay Weldon novel Puffball being his final cinematic outing.

As a tribute to the great man, I thought I’d repost a review from another site where I called Roeg ‘very likely the greatest living British director’. Here’s my thoughts on his 1983 movie Eureka, which starred Gene Hackman and his one-time wife Theresa Russell.

Nicolas Roeg

Eureka (1983)

Considering some of the visually stunning films he has directed such as Walkabout and Don’t Look Now, Nicolas Roeg is a strangely neglected name in cinema nowadays.

Time Out did though recently name Don’t Look Now as the greatest ever British film, while Performance was named seventh on the list. Danny Boyle is a huge fan, as are Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-wai.

How many British directors today could be called visionaries? Maybe Jonathan Glazer, whose last film Under the Skin resembled Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in many ways. Possibly Lynn Ramsay too but not many names spring to mind. Roeg is undoubtedly a visionary, capable at his best of making experimental, intelligent and provocative films that often spoke to audiences beyond the arthouse but despite this, he has only a single directing credit to his name since the mid 1990s.

In addition to his obvious facility with visuals, he has also often demonstrated a real gift for risk taking – I doubt after seeing an super-emaciated and coke-addled David Bowie in the BBC documentary Cracked Actor that any other director would have decided to offer the singer a lead role in their next film but Roeg did and in The Man Who Fell to Earth, he coaxed the finest ever performance from Bowie on the big screen.

Made early in the decade of Greed is Good and with a screenplay by Paul Mayersberg based loosely on a book by Marshall Houts, Eureka baffled the studio execs at MGM, as well as many potential distributors and some of the few cinema goers that got the chance to actually see it during its long delayed and highly limited run.

Eureka 1983

Like much of Roeg’s work this is a multi-layered movie. Many of his trademark characteristics are on display including his use of quickfire and intriguing visual juxtapositions. Early in the film, for example, a smiling man, who is sat shoeless on a icy street blows his brains out which cuts immediately to fireworks and later we see almost dreamlike footage of Jack, a gold prospector played by Gene Hackman, in a cavern hacking out a stream of gold while tiny flakes of the substance swirl all around him repeatedly intercut with shots of Jack’s consumptive former lover Frieda dying in the bordello she runs.

The usual esoteric Roeg ideas percolate throughout the script. At a dinner party, Jack’s son-in-law Claude Malliot Van Horn (Rutger Hauer), wears a shirt decorated with symbols from the Kabbalah and takes part in secret voodoo ceremonies (don’t ask me the connection between the two). Frieda, played by Helena Kallianiotes, appears to be able to see into the future while his wife Helen (Jane Lapotaire) – who bears a definite resemblance to Frieda – reads tarot cards. Various motifs and themes appear or are discussed: numerology, the stars, reflections, alchemy.

Over the end credits Jack’s voice is heard reciting some poetry by Robert Service with the key line: ‘it isn’t the gold that he wants so much as finding the gold’ and this sums up his life when we rejoin him twenty years after his moment of fantastic fortune, by which time he is the richest man in the world, owning a opulent home on a private Caribbean island paradise.

Here, Helen is terminally bored and much too fond of the bottle for her own good while their headstrong daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell) has married a man who McCann despises and believes is a gold digger of a very different kind to himself.

Eureka - Gene Hackman

A battle rages between Jack and Claude over the affections of Tracy and problematically this is a battle where it’s hard to work out who you want to win: McCann is sometimes racist, pig-headed and prone to repeat his boastful mantra of ‘I never earned a nickel from another man’s sweat’, while Claude, is vain and lazy and worse still, a coward who fled from his native France rather than stand against the Nazis but who likes to think of himself as superior to Jack and takes great pleasure in lecturing to him: ‘You didn’t earn the gold, Jack. You took it from Nature. You raped the Earth.’

Like Hackman, Hauer is superb here and the film also benefits from relatively minor but powerful turns from Joe Pesci playing Mayakofsky, a scheming and ruthless mobster desperate to build a casino complex on McCann’s island while Mickey Rourke is in terrific form too as his lawyer Aurelio D’Amato.

There will be blood and when it comes at the end of the second act it will come in the form of one of the most savage murder I have ever seen in a film.

Sadly, though, the final part of Eureka is a disappointment, featuring mainly an extended trial that struck me as being more appropriate for a play than a Nic Roeg film. Theresa Russell, who was Roeg’s wife at the time, doesn’t pull off the impact required to make this section come alive the way the first act clearly did but despite this, I was very pleased to see the movie again and those first twenty or so minutes are as dazzling, mysterious and engrossing to watch as just about any section of Roeg’s better known works.

Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961) – New Waves #4

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Une Femme est une Femme

And now something from the Big Daddy of cinematic new waves, the French Nouvelle Vague, and a movie I mentioned last week.

‘It was my first real film,’ Godard once declared, although during the 1970s he also denounced it as a ‘bourgeois experiment’. I disagree with him on both counts. Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) was his first real film and if Une Femme est une Femme really was a ‘bourgeois experiment’ then I’ll take it over any of his output from his interminably dull and often impenetrable political period.

My initial interest in Godard was perked through being a fan of punk band Subway Sect and learning that their singer Vic had taken his stage surname after the French-Swiss director. When I discovered that a film by him was being screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre, I decided to investigate. This was Une Femme Est Une Femme.

Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, Une Femme Est Une Femme opens in attention grabbing fashion. It announces that it won two major prizes at the Berlin Film Festival and then elongated words flash up in red, white and blue and dominate the screen. These include cast members, influences, genre and more.

Godard Opening Credits Typography

A voice off camera (which we’ll soon recognise as belonging to the star of the film) exclaims: ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ And we’re off.

That star was Godard’s new wife Anna Karina. She plays Angela Recamier, a Danish striptease artist who works at a dowdy Parisian club called the Zodiac. Early on and dressed as a sailor, she performs a coquettish routine, singing:

‘People always wonder why / People stare when I pass by / But it isn’t hard to see / Why the boys all go for me.’

It certainly isn’t.

Anna Karina - Une Femme Est Une Femme

Une Femme Est Une Femme is usually said to be Godard’s tribute to the Hollywood musical, but don’t expect Singin’ in the Rain or anything resembling a musical in the traditional sense. This little number is as close as you’ll get to that.

Don’t expect a complicated plot either. Angela suddenly decides she wants a baby, and she wants one fast. Her boyfriend Emile (Jean Claude Brialy) also wants a baby but not so fast. He’d rather wait and get married before even starting to think about children. Waiting in the wings is Emile’s pal Alfred, who is also in love with Angela and who she might just think is father material too. You wouldn’t blink an eye if the same scenario was played out today in some kooky indie drama or sitcom but before the 1960s started to properly swing this might have been considered somewhat contentious.

Alfred Lubitsch is played by Jean-Paul Belmondo and the Lubitsch part is his name is intended as a little homage to German director Ernst Lubitsch, best known for his sophisticated comedies like Design for Living (the plot of which resembles Une Femme Est Une Femme). This is a movie with levels of cinematic self-referencing that might even make Quentin Tarantino raise an eyebrow.

Alfred mentions that he wants to watch À Bout de Souffle on TV, while later he just happens to be standing in a bar next to Jeanne Moreau. ‘How goes it with Jules and Jim?’ he asks the star of that film. ‘Moderato,’ she replies, Belmondo and Moreau having recently starred together in Peter Brooks’ Moderato Cantabile. Marie Dubois from Shoot the Piano Player by Godard’s fellow new wave pioneer François Truffaut also makes a cameo appearance as a friend of Angela. And guess which film they discuss?

Like À Bout de Souffle, this is very playful. It breaks the fourth wall repeatedly. Sometimes explanations of the film’s narrative are superimposed onto the screen and, as Alfred and Angela walk along a Paris street, Angela announces that she’d like to be in a musical and suddenly she is, although without Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly with choreography by Bob Fosse, which she also wants.

Anna Karina with red umbrella

Emile rides his bike around the flat. After an argument with Angela, the pair refuse to talk to one another and instead thrust books with insulting titles like Monster and Get Stuffed! into one another’s faces. There are sight gags and non-sequiturs and everything is charming bar when Alfred and an ex-landlord hurl abuse at one another.

Cahiers Du Cinema summed it up as ‘Cinema in its pure state’. It says little but says little so stylishly and in such a innovative manner that it’s still very enjoyable. Few actresses have ever looked as luminously beautiful as Anna Karina and, while smoking is a highly addictive and unhealthy, Jean-Paul Belmondo proves conclusively that it can also look amazingly cool. Well, if you’re Jean-Paul Belmondo anyway.

Belmondo & Karina

This are many highlights although but my favourite scene is Alfred and Angela sitting together in a bistro listening to Tu t’laisses aller by Shoot the Piano Player star Charles Aznavour on the jukebox. There’s no dialogue as the song plays, just close-ups of the pair and shots of the record revolving. Alfred blows smoke upwards towards the ceiling. Angela fidgets, sips Dubonnet, looks into a mirror and contemplates a photo that Alfred has decided to show her. The acting here is understated yet superb.

Decades after seeing my first Jean-Luc Godard movie at the GFT, Vic Godard was invited to select a movie for a Monorail Film Club presentation at the same venue, before taking part in a Q&A about Jean-Luc Godard and European cinema.

He chose to screen Pierrot le Fou, which is a better film than Une Femme Est Une Femme but really, all his early work should be seen if possible. If you’re thinking of seeking out anything he was involved in after he embraced Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book, then be prepared to be bored and baffled rather than breathless.

* If you like Une Femme Est Une Femme you might also like the work of François Truffaut. Very roughly speaking, Godard and Truffaut were to French cinema in the 1960s what The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were to British music.

If asked what would be a perfect introduction to the Truffaut filmography, I would choose either The 400 Blows or Jules and Jim.

Fin

 

Daisies (New Waves #3)

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Daises 1966 poster (Unknown Artist)

Věra Chytilová’s Daisies came out in 1966, the same year that The Velvet Underground recorded their debut album. Each was seen as absolutely radical on their release.

Nowadays The Velvet Underground & Nico is much revered, a staple of Greatest Ever Albums lists and the subject of near unanimous critical accolades. Daisies? Well, even all these years later the jury is still out on it. For the British Film Institute it’s ‘undeniably a masterpiece’ while Time Out London moaned: ‘As an allegory it lacks any resonance, as a movie it stinks.’

Dedicated to those who ‘get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce’, it’s certainly a film that once seen will never be forgotten.

From its opening credits featuring footage of devastation such as aerial bombardments and collapsing buildings juxtaposed with images of some metal shifting gears in motion to the soundtrack of stop/start drums accompanied by a bizarre bugle call, Daisies demands attention.

Daisies_-_Tree__of_Knowledge

This is dizzying stuff, a dazzling and frenetic film that makes even an early Jean-Luc Godard French New Wave movie like Un Femme Est Une Femme look almost conservative. Sedmikrásky, to give it its Czech name, comes over like some Dada performance from the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916 crossed with a drug fuelled psychedelic happening.

Yeah, I feel the director could have been reined in at times and found the frequent changes of colour a little tiresome – some scenes were shot in luscious colour, other scenes in black and white, others were tinted various colours by a number of filters. Almost as if the director wanted to use every single camera effect she had at her disposal for the sake of it. Sometimes arbitrarily within the same scene.

Daisies_-_Red_Filter

Maybe this is to parallel the infantile way the two leads behave throughout the film. Certainly if they were given access to a camera, this might well resemble the kind of movie they might make.

By any standards, though, it’s a remarkable work and even more remarkable when you consider the backdrop to its making. Okay, I’m no expert in Eastern European history, but here’s a little background.

After being occupied by the Nazis, Czechoslovakia had Communism foisted upon it in the wake of WWII. Inevitably, the film industry suffered through censorship. Even though the authorities did like the idea of their films being feted internationally (and the subsequent hard currency this would bring into the country), they couldn’t stomach anything that might be seen as critical of the regime.

The Nová Vlna (New Wave) directors were typically far from pro-Communist but as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith put it in his book Making Waves: ‘Rarely were films made which were a deliberate provocation to the authorities, but they gave offence none the less.’ Even their non-confrontational stance could prove controversial. ‘Film-makers were trying to be apolitical in a situation when being apolitical was not an option.’

Daisies, though, did obviously set out to be confrontational. As Chytilová explained in Journey,Jasmina Blažević’s documentary portrait of her: ‘I was daring enough to want absolute freedom, even if it was a mistake.’

A salvo against the dogmatic brand of bureaucratic government imposed on her country, Daisies tells the story (of sorts) of two girls, Marie I and Marie 2, played by non-professional actors Jitka Cerhová (brunette) and Ivana Karbanová (strawberry blonde with floral headband & also seen in the right hand side of this blog’s header). Without any real discussion, the girls conclude the world is bad and, therefore, they should be bad themselves. Equally coquettish and irritating, the Marie characters – who assume many different names throughout – are given no depth and could even be interchangeable.

Daisies_-_Marching

The girls behave badly. They lead older men on then abandon them once meals have been paid for. They visit a cabaret bar where a vaudeville act is performing and steal alcoholic drinks from everyone around them and cause havoc before being thrown out by the manager. They steal from a woman who is shown to be friendly towards them. Most famously, they stumble into a banquet hall where a mammoth array of delicacies has been laid out on platters and plates, presumably for a gathering of bigwig party dignitaries.

The Maries mush up the food and devour it with their hands. With the gargantuan appetites they display throughout the film it’s a wonder they’re not absolutely obese. They slug back wine and glug Johnny Walker Red label. Plates are broken. Bottles are smashed. They parade over the tables, stepping directly on to the feast – ruining more than just a stomped-upon bed of lettuce with every step.

Daisies ends with a spectacular food fight.

Daisies_-_Banquet

The Communist authorities were never going to approve of content like this, but the climax somehow riled them more than any other aspect of the film. Labelled as ‘depicting the wanton’, this ensured that it would earn a ban.

Jitka Cerhová, interviewed in French newspaper Libération years later, recalled: ‘You can’t imagine how these scenes, where we threw down the table and the platters of a sumptuous banquet, were shocking in a country where people waited on line for hours in front of grocery stores.’

Sadly, Chytilová struggled to find any approved work as a director in her homeland for years. At one point in the mid-1970s, the woman dubbed the ‘First Lady of Czech Cinema’ even resorted to writing to then President Gustav Husak, begging for her right to direct. She pledged her allegiance to ‘socialism’ and argued against criticisms of her work including Daisies, which she described it as a ‘morality play’, suggesting that her film should be interpreted in a completely different light – the bad behaviour of her two leads reflected the lives of apathetic young people when they’re ‘left to [their] own devices’. The two Maries and their ‘malacious pranks’ could be due to their lack of work and undeveloped political consciousness.

Yeah, right.

The letter worked. In 1977, she was allowed to direct The Apple Game, which I have yet to see and which isn’t currently available to buy in Britain.
Daisies, though, has just came out as a region free Blu-Ray from Second Run.

Extras include two separate audio commentaries (which I haven’t yet heard), a 20-page booklet, and Journey – the aforementioned documentary.

For anybody interested in the Czechoslovak New Wave, groundbreaking female directors or experimental cinema of the 1960s, this is something you’ll want to get your hands on.

* If you like Daisies then you might also like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, which also displays a strong surrealist influence. The screenplay was adapted by director Jaromil Jireš, along with Ester Krumbachová, who also had a hand in writing Daisies. Oh, and the score is one of the magical you could ever hope to hear.

For more on Daisies: http://www.secondrundvd.com/release_daisiesBD.html

When Harry met Debbie (Harry)

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This week I’ve been reviewing a couple of films for another site. Hitler’s Hollywood examines the blatant propaganda employed by the Nazis once they seized power in Germany in 1933. In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, this made for some particularly painful – but enlightening – viewing, especially when seeing excerpts from films whose main purpose was to scapegoat Jews.

The other film was Lucky, the cinematic swan song of Harry Dean Stanton. A film about mortality that features a ninety year old man and eschews any real action or (outward) conflict, this is another movie I’d highly recommend.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Harry was featuring in big cult successes like Paris, Texas and Repo Man (both from 1984). Back then he was around the age I am now, and as you can likely guess from that statement, Lucky might make you meditate on your own mortality.

Lucky recently enjoyed an overdue theatrical release in Britain, by which point Harry had sadly died. It debuts on Blu-ray and DVD in Britain on the twelfth of this month and comes along with a number of very welcome extras, most particularly Sophie Huber’s impressionistic 2012 documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.

Harry Dean Stanton - Partly Fiction

Here we follow Harry around his home and haunts in Hollywood. He sings a bunch of songs like Blue Bayou and Danny Boy and it would have to be admitted, his croon could best be described as ragged.

It’s impossible to imagine this frail old-timer delivering lines like speed snorting Bud did in Repo Man: ‘An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A Repo Man spends his life getting into tense situations.’

Inevitably, we’re shown clips from that movie and some of the two hundred plus others he acted in during his long career like Cool Hand Luke, Alien and The Straight Story.

David Lynch & Harry Dean Stanton - Partly Fiction

No natural raconteur, Stanton is cagey about his private life, albeit he does admit to being something of a ladies man and tells the story of losing an unnamed girlfriend to Tom Cruise. Without wanting to go all gossip magazine, that’ll be Rebecca De Mornay.

Possibly to help open him up, he’s filmed meeting up with pals like Straight Story director David Lynch, who also appears in Lucky, and Kris Kristofferson, who Stanton acted with in Cisco Pike and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Debbie (or Deborah as she’s styled here) Harry also makes an appearance.

Although always liking the song, until watching Partly Fiction, I hadn’t realised that Debbie had name-checked him in I Want That Man: ‘I want to dance with Harry Dean / Drive through Texas in a black limousine.’

How cool is that? Debbie Harry writing a song about you and it going on to become her biggest solo hit?

Harry Dean, unfortunately, didn’t pick up on the fact himself for a number of years. Eventually, Debbie gave him a call and the two immediately bonded, striking up a long-lasting friendship. Or was it more than that? She phones him again midway through the documentary and gets a little flirty. Lucky ol’ Harry Dean Stanton.

Deborah Harry - Partly Fiction

While shooting the breeze with David Lynch, Harry is asked how he’d like to be remembered. ‘Doesn’t matter,’ he replies without any hesitation.

Maybe this kind of thing didn’t matter to Stanton, but I’ll remember him very fondly anyway. He was one of the most consistently good American actors of the past fifty years and, as one of the most consistently good American critics Roger Ebert once put it: ‘No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.’

Partly Fiction is an occasionally fascinating watch though far from essential. Along with Lucky, though, it makes for a great package.

More Harry Dean in the near future, folks.

Thom Yorke : Suspiria (Music For The Luca Guadagnino Film)

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Suspiria (XL Recordings)

Dario Argento’s legendary supernatural masterpiece Suspiria was not only a stunning slice of atmospheric horror, it also boasted one of the great scores of 20th century cinema by Italian band Goblin (or the “Goblins” as they were credited on the film).

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton is about to hit British cinemas next month, having recently premiered here at the BFI London Film Festival to reviews that generally agree the new film fails to match the breathtaking brilliance of its original.

Composed by Thom Yorke, the accompanying soundtrack – his debut feature length score – comes out today on XL. According to the singer, the music this time round takes its main influence not from Goblin’s disturbing but dazzling OST but from Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner. This is maybe most evident in the cold synth riff that opens Volk, and micro-short tracks like A Soft Hand Across Your Face, Synthesizer Speaks, The Universe is Indifferent and Suspirium Finale pt 2.

This, though, is a diverse listen. One minute you might think of a György Ligeti choir; the next some musique concrète experiment. The Balance of Things possesses a distinct eastern feel while Klemperer Walks momentarily made me think of the Wendy Carlos.

More often, a number of the tracks bring to mind kosmiche acts from the mid 1970s. The original movie was released in 1977 and this new ‘cover version’ as Swinton refers to it as, is set in that same year, a time when German electronic act Tangerine Dream scored William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Klaus Schulze provided the music for Lasse Braun’s Body Talk and Popol Vuh released their ninth album, the OST for Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass. It’s easy to imagine Yorke listening to albums like these as he commenced work on this project.

Suspirium itself, the first taster from the album, is one of the highlights here. A sparse song with elegiac piano melody, pastoral flute and the most plaintive vocals you’ll hear in 2018, this is vintage Yorke. Has Ended features a crisp drum tattoo (played by Yorke’s son Noah) and dreamy psychedelic drones; A Choir of One has a sinister feel, the prelude, I would guess, to some nerve shredding action. The piano on Unmade wouldn’t sound out of place on some middle of the road track and gives listeners some light relief during what is a sometimes unsettling listen.

Notably Yorke’s bandmate companion Jonny Greenwood has received much acclaim for his own contributions to the art of scoring in recent years although the Academy have so far failed to award him an Oscar. I haven’t yet seen the new Suspiria, so it’s impossible for me to say how effective this music will work in tangent with the visual flair of Guadagnino but I would guess Yorke’s work here would have to be seriously considered – along with Greenwood’s fine job on Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.

I can judge this, though, as a standalone (double) album. There are many fascinating instrumental fragments that might be described as incidental music rather than as fully fledged songs. Not that this means I don’t admire them hugely anyway.

Best of all are the tracks where Yorke supplies that famous fragile falsetto of his on such as Has Ended and Open Again. Suspirium Finale is a take on Suspirium with strings supplied by The London Contemporary Orchestra, who also contributed to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. It’s as good as anything on that 2016 album.

Other pieces such as Sabbath Incantation obviously have a definite purpose in accompanying some specific narrative event on-screen, and these prove less successful as music you’ll want to listen to on any kind of regular basis. For the sake of album cohesiveness, Yorke might have been wise to drop some of these moments. Most fans will likely want to programme their own version.

Uneven but mostly engrossing.

8/10

To stream or buy the album click here.

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