Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32. No. 25. October 9, 1969
Pick of the Bunch
MY colleague has dealt ably and at some length with many new releases. The task here, however, is to look at some of the year's films in perspective. It is with some reluctance I list a top grouping, as this year so far has Failed to produce any one outstanding film. Instead there are a number of films which are hard to sort out, all of which have strong virtues, mostly for different reasons. Also, as this column has been at pains to point out, Wellington is New Zealand's best place for delayed films. Thus into these considerations a good many worthy but as yet unreleased films must be excluded Among these, incredibly, is one which I was forced to exclude last year for the same reason, Albert Finney's Charlie Bubbles, which is still one of the best British films ever made.
I have selected seven films as being the best of the year's bunch so far, though only hall of these may survive, thus being branded with that phrase "staying power". I have also included others which are entertainments of the moment, made to be perishable and all the more enjoyable for it. Thus, in order of release:
Rosemary's Baby (Paramount). One of the two on this list which will probably be on everyone's. Polish-born Polanski has proved his film-making abilities, all that is needed is for him to utilise them to the highest degree of proficiency. Luckily, at the moment, he has the best of both worlds: commercial and critical success. Polanski's future seems set for one like Hitchcock's, where artistic statement is weaved into a thriller plot. Let's hope that Polanski's success does not allow him to follow the Master down to path to ruin and acceptance of substandard projects which make him a victim of the very machine of which he was so much the master. Rosemary's Baby is Polanski's culmination of technical expertise; I only hope his imagination can keep up with it.
Reflections in a Golden Eye (Warner-Seven Arts): Alter it finally got here and was coarsely digested it can still be wondered how Huston made a film which consisted mainly of freak characters, yet none in isolation beyond reason. Marlon Brando heads the list as a latent homosexual army officer who is impotent with his wife (Liz Taylor) who is having it off with the next door neighbour officer (Brian Keith) who likes it because he can't have it with his wife (Julie Harris) because she's insane and has some sort of Strange relationship with an effete Filipino houseboy. The object of Brando's adulation is a young soldier who gets his satisfaction from riding bareback on Liz's stallion and spends his nights at Liz's bedside unbeknown to her. You might think this to be one big sick joke, but it comes over strong and that's enough.
Petulia (Warner-Seven Arts): Richard Lester's first American film in which one is conscious yet again that this is a Lester film and no one else's. He is one of those few whose direction we enjoy more than the film itself (and whose direction is better than the film). In this case Lester has moved beyond his more superficial British nieces to something more substantial about his homeland, Perhaps seldom have we seen such emotional coldness presented on the screen, or where the middle class is leading us if we don't get out and stop it.
Joanna (20th Century-Fox): One of those flippant entertainments to be enjoyed for
its own sake. While others preferred The Touchables (20th-Fox again) I Found Mike Sarne's first feature enjoyable, clever and witty with a brilliant debut by Genevieve Waite and some excellent supporting work from Donald Sutherland. Good music score by Rod McKuen.
Hour of the Wolf (United Artists): An annual honour for the King of the Art Film who consistently turns out cinematic prove that no matter what you see, say or think Ingemar Bergman is there until someone can get up and knock him down, an unenviable task. The other on this list which will be on everyone else's.
Secret Ceremony (Universal): If I had to choose the best of the bunch it would be this one. In terms of originality it is hardly a masterpiece, but it will do until we see more of Joseph Losey's work made in between this and his previous film shown in Wellington (The Servant, 1965). The sort of film which everyone denounces as a big have, yet is begrudgingly admired.
Romeo and Juliet (Paramount): It took a while to get here but the wait was worth it, which is to say we shouldn't have to. Franco Zeffirelli and his young cast have done wonders with this Shakespearean romance and made it the sort of film which can introduce mum to what's going on. As for the purists, they can have Shakespeare and I'll stick to cinema.
Best of the Rest
Those that have missed out will be mentioned under various handy labels for ease of identification only.
Westerns had the leanest year for some time with every big one a flop. The Good The Bad and the Ugly (United Artists) saved the day and another spaghetti The Big Gundown (Columbia) had Lee van Cleef again. 100 Rifles (20th-Fox) gets a small award for mixing revolution and action.
Adaptions of stage plays did well. The Lion in Winter (20th-Fox) was a marvellously contrived affair which provided from Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole and newcomers some of the best acting. Staircase (20th Fox) was a showcase for Rex Harrison as instant queer and loving it with some of the most sordid scenes yet. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (20th-Fox) was a film third hand from the play based on the novel. The film owes much to the play's dialogue to keep it moving quickly along, but its main attribute was Maggie Smith in the leading role. Her's is a performance which ranks with the best and at last gave her something she could get her teeth into.
French novelist Marguerite Duras fared well with 10.30 p.m. Summer and Sailor From Gibraltar (both United Artists) which appeared belately in two consecutive weeks. Jules Dassin used interesting colour filters to highlight the "steaminess" of the Spanish-set melodramatic triangle. Tony Richardson concentrated on bleached monochrome and a repetitive motif to contain the mixture of passion and frustration. Duras's women were well served by Melina Mercouri and Jeanne Moreau respectively. From France itself Playtime and La Religieuse (both N.Z.F.S.) were, apart from the Bergman, the highlights of the few "pure" European films. Jacques Tati presented his own unique style and humour, though at too great a length, and La Religieuse, also on the long side, made me wonder what all the fuss was about in France where it was originally banned through action by the church. Rivette's film was a careful, deliberate one which more or less presented Anna Karina as the only religious person in nineteenth century France. For a nouvelle vague director Rivette had remarkable restraint and his classic-style treatment at least made it more intelligible than his first film, Paris Nous Appartient.
From America a bracket which delved deep into perversion without leaving too much yuck. The Legend of Lylah Clare (MGM) was an Aldrich tour de force which encompassed incest, lesbianism, necrophilia as well as the usual mixed into a Hollywood screen-star story—a sort of trial run for The Killing of Sister George. The Boston Strangler (20th-Fox) made a valiant attempt to defraud the censor by placing so many perversions into a multiple screen image, presumably in the hope that too much of a bad thing would not prove dangerous. Aside from the trimmings Boston Strangler was a compelling film of detection and pathological speculation. Coogan's Bluff (Universal) was a good, but disappointing, offering from action-master Don Seigel, who looks as though represctability may be the end of him. His explosive violence was somewhat denuded, but Clint Eastwood grittily managed to last the distance.
From Britain some original and wonderful works. Yellow Submarine (United Artists) showed the extremes of animation in utilising colour phenomena for fantastic effect, and the original screenplay by Peter Draper made I'll Never Forget What's 'isname (Universal) unforgettable as a hard-hitting though temporary piece of social insanity.
Also noted: Head (Columbia) a remarkable though too-advanced-for-local-audiences paen to the drug age by the Monkees relishing every bit of technical gimmickry, burlesque and selfparody with appearances by Victor Mature, Timothy Carey and Zappa adding to the delights. Bullitt (Warner-Seven Arts) as a superlative thriller (plus car chase and man hunt) in spite of a fascist story. The re-release of Lolita (MCM) so we could now see why it was R21—and I still cannot see why. In the margin: of the abundant high-class technical work seen the photographic award must go to Conrad Hall for his work on John (Point Blank) Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (Cinerama Releasing Corp), a brilliant but limited film in itself. The singular most funny scene was taken by Peter Sellers as Bungit Din or someone in The Party (United Artists) who originated "birdie num-nums".
The acting laurels are hard to pin-point aside from the cast of Lion in Winter. Maggie Smith (Jean Brodie), Edith Evans (The Whisperers—United Artists) and, perhaps for sheer presence, Liz Taylor (Reflections, Secret Ceremony) took the female individual honours for major roles, and Nicol Williamson (Inadmissible Evidence—Paramount) leads the male performances for his outstanding film debut.
Boobies and disappointments include the ill-fated Che (20th-Fox), not so much for what it wanted to do or what it did but merely for its existence. The Guru (20th-Fox) and Isadora (Universal) were the biggest disappointments. Art was in even-frame, intentions every where, motives clear and sympathetic but neither quite clicked. For the worst-most-enjoyable none other than the Australian production Age of Consent (Columbia) which for what it lacked in every other department had an eye-full of a talented young woman named Helen Mirren, an Aussie ex-patriate now working the Shakespearean rounds in England.
Finally, a word for the most ignored force in films, though they are responsible for what we eventually see—the film distributors. Though individual film honours are fairly well spread, for sheer consistency and encouragement to new film-makers and ideas all credit to 20th Century Fox, which, through Amalgamated Theatres, ensures that its films are seen quickly after their overseas release. Example: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Royal command film, 1969, released Wellington April, 1969: Romeo and Juliet (Paramount through Kerridge) Royal command film, 1968, released Wellington August, 1969. But apart from not allowing films to gather dust 20th-Fox also released stuff like The Magus, Deadfall, Decline and Fall ... of a Birdwatcher and Hard Contract, as well as the others mentioned above. The only other studio rivalling such off-beat material is Universal, but unfortunately few of these ever see the light of day. Which leaves the other major companis passing off the odd stray stuff which comes their way in any way they like. The customer, need it be said, comes last. The independent foreign film distributor New Zealand Film Services has kept fairly quiet this year with some sex comedies surfacing at the Lido from time to time. Perhaps later we will see a further blossoming of European films from it.
Full Fathom with Christians
Two unfortunates at the festival (I wont bother to comment on audience reaction, which was, basically sincere; extremely well attended, thank goodness) did not dampen the spirit or whatever much, such was the enlightening experience of being there and seeing some fantastic films: Wajda's new Everything for Sale, his masterpiece it seems, did not arrive from Warsaw, and did not make Adelaide either (it was replaced by Goto the Isle of Love, a futuristic thing from France, 1 have just learnt of is remarkable!) and the last film, Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar (I feel a mute sadness in not being able to see this masterpiece: unanimously the festival's greatest work), but Contemporary distribute his films easily, and it may be a lead for their releasing it; while the federation next year is negotiating to purchase Mouchette (and maybe next years festival will include his latest work Une Femme Douce in colour). End of Bresson obit.
Before I sink deep into the offerings a few side-enlightenments, which help things along etc. . . .
Projection standards varied and were often responsible for wrong lenses (Goopy and the Engagement, Reels 1, not very funny), occasional misfires for Q-dots (in the case of the Czech films, black squares and in Jancso's and Ray's film, red lines slashed across, scratches, and multitudinous extraneous blemishes), on occasion the K.O. pop band blared forth straight after the film (with some, one needed, if anything, a few hours to recover), if it didn't pull the curtain across and show a where-to-havc-a-friendlycoffeeaftertheshow slide, while the credits shone feebly beneath.
Despite this usual total disregard etc., the golden monkeyup award for most typical ineptitude was on the 11 am showing of The Red and the White; reels 1 and 2, 3 and 4 were all shown out of order. I was not aware of Jancso's work (thank you, P. Kael!) and could not make out, (well co-ordinate truthfully) and re-act to the film's structure.
I understand the 2 pm screening even had a variant on that! But on the second viewing at 8 pm, the film was shown correctly, achieving a most humane status, certainly more intelligently moving, and for me (among other things) by far the best film of the week.
A large ad announced The Red and the White from Czechoslovakia. I blushingly told the door-woman (who else? Authority, it seemed, was never at hand) and threatened her of the insults and troubles she could have. "Oh, dear," she said, "I think you're right". Nevertheless, it stayed there —all day.
The unbelievable following summary from the programme notes of Hunger, is a classic of the snobbic ridiculousness and obvious disregard for proof reading of any kind:
". . . Knut Hamsun's novel is a remarkable study of a mind on the brink of dissolution; a mind rendered more acute bystarvation but also becoming uncontrollably wayward driven to the brink of despair through inability to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself. All of this and more is beautifully conveyed in the film. The locations are wonderfully atmospheric uncontrollably wayward driven to the brink of despair through inability to express itself, but also kept in a state of permanent optimism by the need to express itself. All of this and more is beautifully conveyed in the film. The locations are wonderfully atmospheric ..." (sic!!!)
Elsewhere was the news that Friday's film was the Bofors Fun (which it wasn't). The newspapers (bent on distortion, the comments were of brainless buggers!) in colourful mood had a field day. Jiri Menzel was called Firi on every occasion, Per Oscarsson was called Par and the Herald said he will be remembered "locally"(!) for his role in Dear John! There was also a Miklos Janesco and a Hugh Claus, plus many more. Not very funny, really.
On with the show . . .
Henning Carlsen's Hunger opened the festival, and I understand at the evening showing it was opened by a Mr D. A. Highet, National MP, who along with rows of young ladies in Norse garb (bit hard to pin point these Scandys!) made a lot of Stewpid noise, greeted with much laughter and other rabblings—not reported on, naturally, in the Press. I need not quote what he said (for I know not what unquotable things he did say) but let me say it did not dampen what was to follow, and contrary to public taste the young ladies did not burst forth into many folkeries!
Hunger was pretty disappointing, and very fragmentary; relying on the incredible Oscarsson to carry scene to scene: he played a young impoverished writer/philosopher, at the turn of the century, who is quite mad, grovelling for food, pawning his clothes, dreaming of unwritten masterpieces, befriending a young woman (Gunnel Lindblom) and finally selling his sight and soul to the ocean. I was expecting to be moved by all this sombreness, the terrifying pity of it all that sometimes Oscarsson achieved, but it rarely hit home with any true tenderness. A marvellous creaking score by Krzystof Komeda and Nykvist-clear processing. My favourite scene is in the forest with the writer chasing the two girls, sounds of leaves, beautiful white clothes, and utter bewilderment and frustration on all their faces; they walk out of frame, into and out of frame, into the grass. Quietly moved by that; but not much else. Too much imagery, uncongratulated.
An embarrassingly naive short on the history of some of Columbia pictures greatest achievements(!) was narrated with ocular aversion by Gregory Peek from (shall we say) You Can't Take It with You, up to Lawrence of Arabia. The processing must have been done in soup: Wong-Howe's Picnic looked positively leprous!
Jiri Menzel's Capricious Summer (1968) was so beautiful, if slight; bucolic if not at all whimsical, and so utterly enchanting in a spell-binding way. It literally took your breath away, especially the opening sunny moody scenes. Just over an hour long. Menzel's tale is of a Czech village 40 years ago. Summer rain falls in the day, the nights are hot—the swimming instructor, his wife, the padre and a colonel, sit in the sun on the banks of the cool river, sometimes swimming, and fishing, laughing and drinking wine. (There is a shot of 3 tall glasses, with a little red wine in each, a bee buzzing in one, the music has a high violin trilling, the rain splashes in the glasses, cut to the swimming instructor, old blue striped swim-suit standing above, mystified in the river, puffing a cigar! This is typical of Menzel's enchantment all throughout the film.)
A tightrope walker arrives in a creaking caravan (Menzel plays this little elf deliciously) with his young mistress; third rate performers on la strada. All the men fall in love with the girl, and the wife in love with Menzel. Eventually everyone gets hurt in some sort of way, physically or mentally. The padre is fed fish by the young girl, the local drunks upset the caravan, the padre's ear is torn by accident and in one of the gruesomest scenes I have ever seen: the instructor mends it with a fish hook and pure alcohol (he drinks a bit as well!), the bloody ripped flesh of the ear, the sewing up with a fish hook, he finally bites off the thread—all in close-up. The theatre's reaction was terrifying (I could hardly watch the first time) almost hysterical paranoia! Like Forman and Ivory, Menzel's humour is of observance, the delights of subtle and personal characterisations. On the second viewing the subtlety of the humour, if it attempts slightly, to move us, succeeded, but I wish everyone could see it. A little jewel.
Jan Nemec's A Report on the Party and the Guests was the most gruelling 70 minutes I have ever spent in the cinema. In fact the two together culminated in some of the most exhaustive film watching I saw. This film is a concentrated masterpiece (certainly after second viewing) as was Diamonds of the Night. If it is a "thinly veiled attack on the Stalinist regime of pre-Dubcek days". I can well believe (and see) it, but. as it is, it is a frighteningly nasty tale, with enough overtones to give you nighmares for the rest of the year. It has the naturalness and inescapably relentless puzzlement of Kafka or Gombrowicz. (By the way, both these films were photographed by Jaromir Sofr—the Nemec's black and white used from grainy to sheeny black and whites— the Menzel, colour far natural than ever I remember seeing before.)
A picnic in the forest for nice silly people, hot sun and delicious wobbly cakes, jokes, all pleasant and drowsy. One of the women turns and laughs straight into the camera at one point—most disturbing. Another pulls out chewing gum and laughs. They see a wedding party clanging through the trees, and are then persuaded by a mad crank called Rudolph to attend his little game, something like a war trial, full of Ionesco dialogue, strange faces and laughter of uncertainty. Never have I felt madness and Sanity so beautifully intertwined. A Lenin looking host arrives, apologises for Rudolph's behaviour (a man escapes, the thugs pounce on him, Rudolph has a fit!) and invites them to a huge alfresco candelabra'd banquet by a lake in the forest. There's talk and strange mutterings. One woman finds she's sitting in the wrong place, so do others, but after everyone has shifted around, they sit back in exactly the same place. The lunatic (like American Paul Lynde, he is brilliant) slobbers, and drops his food. One crying woman's husband has run away, the wine flows, the gigantic silver candleholders, hold fast dripping candles— all wax and decay in a bourgeois open-air asylum! A speech is made to the absent friend. The host decides to hold a hunt for him. The picnickers stay on, eating the remains, guns are loaded, the crowds depart with dogs and drunken singing through the trees. The last shot is of an arm, a gun, a candle, and the sounds of dogs barking louder and louder until they seem to tear through the now black screen. Have never seen (or felt) such a washed-out audience, stunnedly groping for the exist's light before. Would it be too much to hope for Nemec's Martyrs of Love for next year? The Czech cinema has still the most fantastically rewarding films—I hope the current situation will never deprive the world of creativity of unparallelled sensitivity, such as this.
From Hungary Miklos Jancso's The Red and the White was so overwhelmingly, a completely new visionary experience in the cinema, nothing of the kind I had ever seen before, or imitated in. It is his fifth feature (he has since made Silence and Cry and Winter Sirocco—Confrontation, in colour). He seems to be individually responsible for all his films being "the same". The effect of a man locked in his style—and place—with nowhere to go with it.
Furrowing brows and eyes in disbelief at a cinematic talent so fantastic, The Red and the White was a chilling, moving and unbelievable film, one of the greatest films I have ever seen. Jancso shoots all his films on a huge wide screen that seems to go past the natural visionary phase; the confusions of Hungarian history, 1918, the civil war period after the Russian revolution. Men drilled in explicit positions, chess of the fields, barking orders, creeping up and killing, playing games, puzzles, helicopter shots of horses thundering across fields, rivers shining. The camera moves like a frightened swan, wandering back and forth unrelentlessly, hardly ever stopping, all enquiring, taking in, gliding past hundreds of faces, sad faces (no one smiles in this film) and death: each observantly minutely detailed death is a moving occasion. The men are either shot at short range, shot in a collective heap, or speared by poles in the river. The women (usually nurses), stripped, humiliated, left cold (or as in this, lead into a forested glade to waltz to a bitter magyar band, in shafts of light, with each other—a wonderful scene).
The final suicidal confrontation between the reds and white troops, the lost soldier wandering in the flaxy grass on the hillside among the bodies, the muted bugle call, pressing a sword against his saddened face, Jancso ends this film brilliantly, his theme, a simply satisfying—no one wins a war. Sometimes one is not quite sure what is happening, "nothing is but what is not". I cannot conceal my hurried anticpation to see another (and another) Jancso film soon. Penelope Houston sums him up beautifully, so on there I'll lie: "It is a world so sealed off, threatening and glacial that it makes Bresson (with whom jancso has so often been compared) seemed to be positively overflowing with easy human warmth . . . The film is all action and will power; it would be lost—and Jancso knows it—if it let in the breath of an outside world."
A few interesting short features at this juncture: les Escargots (France) a horrifying cartoon fable of when the earth was ruled by gigantic snails. Sound effects and wailing jazz. plus a surrealistically true series of incidents, wiped the dripping laughter from the faces of those who thought animation a light-hearted diversion.
In the Void (Netherlands) also animatedly and graphically showed us violence and vampirism, a latent trait in us all perhaps?
The Fisherman (USA) in 5 minutes nearly reduced the theatre to an uproar. A man is fishing on a beach; he eats his lunch. After 4 fish, he is still hungry, but he see's a sandwich. In it is a hook which catches in his throat, and we it rip his face. He is dragged screaming, and page 21tugging back into the ocean. Absolutely revolting!
From the British Film Institute, an experimental feature, The Locker, by Barry Tomblin, Another Kafka talc shot in a white room with two demented idiots, one who comes for an interview and is stuck on a baby's chair, everyone speaks backward! A bikinied woman steps (I think) from the locker, and they make frienzied love, all expressed in the others mad face. They climb Into the locker, the other then for 10 minutes tries every possible way to get into it, smashing, rocking, he departs defeated and blood) (I think he had bloody knuckles, a lot of it was too fast to comprehend—plus interspersed Hashes of cars whizzing past!)
Darling, do you love me? Was an underground screaming thing I thought our old computed friend Harvey might have made. M.ad, all 2 minutes of it! A thing called Ice Cream Soda (Netherlands) was incredibly banal. Like a straightbuttoned Theorem talc it did have some gratuitous eroticism, hut Dutch theorists aren't necessarily good film makers. I booed that one. Apart from some Pintoff (I didn't see) and Alan Arkin's The Last Mohican (I saw before, its a treat), and a National Film Unit colour yawn called (naturally) Wild September Snow (which, I heard was clapped at. Circulation problems. I bet, or mosquitoes!). The best short feature was The Dove (Di Duva) a mock-Bergmanesque treaty on various themes, made in the States by George Coe and Anthony Lover. Everyone loved this, even if a bit slow in getting the gist of it. The characters spoke mock-swedish, (e.g. Di sunn ist komen outska—sort of thing)—the titles in "natural" English. It gently nudged Wild Strawberries ("I have a hernia") and the Seventh Seal. The old man retires to a grot /"outhouse" for (among other things) a reminisce! Death plays badminton with the young things ana loses (he blames it on his perspiration!). A cigarette is offered thus. "phallika symbol?", the titles read: a cigarette? There's a corny nude romp, all full of lovely Sven Sunkist images in the summertime. The old man comes out of his house—his final coup d'etat: "I feel better now", brought down the other house. A glorious little film, be great if it could get commercial showing, despite a rather silly R16 certificate.
I'll only comment shortly on the rest of the features.
Ermanni Olmi's The Engagement, was enchanting and again, carefully observed, like Forman. Slightly documentary, and full of precise and loving warmth for its two people, I would love to see more of his work.
It was shown with Stereo (Canada. 1969) by David Cronenherg. a 70 minute "unconventionally" everything film about sexual psychology, the interactions of telepathis sexualis between three rather strange people at the Canadian Academy for Erotic Enquiry. It was a test case on the nature of sex among telepathists, 'to test the para-psychological theories of an unseen genius, called Luther Stringfellow." (!) No music. a very technical commentary, all shot in a futuristic contemporary concrete structure, it was fascinating, boring, and at times rather erotic. It was also in black and white! So am I.
The Enemies (Netherlands, 1968) a rather deceptive film by Hugo Claus, was unique in that it was spoken entirely in english, the characters given "banal lines of dialogue, like bubble-talk in comics." Expletives were freely used, and the characters rather one dimentional. But half-way through, a nudging suspicion I had, burst: it was nearly a re-vamp of Renoir's Vanishing Corporal. The film then started to work, and it niftily moved along to a rather saddening climax where all of its heroes were shot by their own men. Realistically, and objectively, a quaint re-working of the antiwar theme.
Jack Gold's The Bofors Gun (Britain 1968) was a bloody, depressing experience. Script by John McCrath from his play. it starred Nicol Williamson, now absolutely brilliant as the nasty. evil, Irish rebel and drunk. O'Rourke; he spat his words like boiling bile. Also in it. David Warner, quiet and "nice". The film centres on the events while a handful of men guard a mysterious gun in a British army barracks in German). 1954. No wonder it was banned in Aussie, the dialogue, certainly more explicit than any other film, could cause quite a reaction. The film will be released commercially. It is unnerving; Gold's style is simple and unobtrusive; still quite the most nasty film at the festival. One felt like a good hot bath after it (ugh!!).
There was an epic thing called The Column from that most enchanting country Rumania. Directed by that master of De Millesville Mircea Drogan (let me hear that name again?!), it was strictly Saturday afternoon kids' stuff, that starred, among all its other opaque drivea, Richard Johnson!! Enough. Finally (gaaaasp!) I saw Satyajit Rays latest, the Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (Goopy Gyne and Bagha Byne), the print of which looked as though it had been through a million Bombay flea pits. Completely disregarding all technicalities (and the fact, our friend, Subrata Mitra did not photograph it) editing (atrocious) especially. it was a hilarious, magical and on so happy little film. Two youngsters (well 20-ish youngsters) are given magical gilts to sing and play on drum and sitar. They enter a contest, charm a king, dampen a little war between rival kingdoms and win a lovely princess each. Hoorah! Ray gives his two leads, the most marvellous things to sing and laugh over; there's a mad magician, an equally mad king, and Lesterish tricks that nehant and entertain. I found it a glorious little phantasy, despite the rumblings of silence it was greeted with in the theatre. Need it be said: give it a wash, tidy it up a bit. blow a wee kiss, and send it into the cinemas here to give us all another two hour treat. It would be a fantastic hit.
So ends the festival (for me) and my last load of verbiage for Salient. The year's films have only started; what is coming seems even better than usual. I'm afraid too. that you won't be seeing Lind-say Anderson's If . . . in Wellington until February, 1970. a fact, I wish, I could too, believe. Hare Krishmas, anyway!
Media, Rare: Arty & Pests
A Shattering eye-sore pilgrimagic-cinematic spree of 12 days, more films than I have ever seen in a concentrated period, one week of the Auckland International Film Festival, interspersed, almost mercifully. with some lesser commercial slop, and a few surprises, hither but hardly thith.
Undaunted and exhausted I write; some notes made during the festival, others hurriedly collated, and if they appear slightly redundant etc., please remember fish do not retain their apparent freshness once consumed (Arrable Parable!).
The 10th Victim (X.Z.F.S.) made in 1965 when the divine di Venanzo knew how to capture colour in a midflight rapture, is Elio Petri's bandly-bondy satire, full of flesh harry humour and gags of the future. It reeks of a prettier more sexier world than Alphaville, hut it it too slight a treatment of the futuristic hunters and the hunted. Mastroianni and Ursula Undress do things to each other, with disinterested ambivalence.
I Love You Alice B. Toklas (Warners-7) would be credible (if not entirely acceptable) if it was (I) not coekconked by (gaaaaasp!!) Hy Averback (I swear never to use that name again); (2) not using Peter Sellers in a still, tiresome, unfunny role and; (3) some-one had not removed any. but every reference to LSD) (and other things?) As it stands now. with entire scenes missing, the film is a peaceful 7000 ft odd! Because reconstruction has taken place (the film's point and subject make it more Obscurely revolting), it should have been banned (like Skidoo, boo hoo!), thus saving us all from knowing it is about hippies, and synthetic things that make you laugh like crazy, and using all that haightful "trendy" language that went out with sniffing glider glue.
Still, I musn't be that ridiculous (I just have hated all His movies) because, there are a few funny scenes, and the ideas of changing norms and personal structure is yet another variation on the Second's theme. Sellers plays a jewish lawyer Harold Fine, who's engaged to this real talkative broad, who says on climaxica non interruptus, "it moved for me, the earth, did it move for you Harold?" Thats quite funny (first time), and there's this Indian (?) family, strangling in neck braces due to an accident in their chicken-couped car, and Harold's Jewish mom (Jo Van Fleet) who's a pain. So Harold goes hip(!) and there's all these real weirdie scenes, full of gentle sickening satire (of course Andy Warhol's mentioned, cheaply. as the creator of a six-hour epic Mondo Teeth) and a simple revolting score from Bernstein (Elmer, please!) and bloated nauseous colour processing (Ye Gods! Phillip Lathrop. I fail to believe!!). There's one scene where Mom. pop, fiancee and Harold get hysterically high on hashish-laced cookies (a moral of sorts: you can't have your haight and freak it!) and that's very, very funny. Its coming to the Kings, then.
A Stranger Knocks (N.Z.F.S.) Sinking lower and lower, now! It comes from Sweden in the style of a 1940s sex drama (when it most possibly was made) but in the USA withheld because of two explicit" scenes of coita avec flannello. As it stands (or horizonks) there is one scene left in (depending on your frame of mind, granted your mind is framed) in this version (the Aussie censor bit a bit out, ahem!) and now I can really say I was a bit baffled by what happened. It's very krafftilly done, and he looks like the infamous George Wilder. and she a toiletty Susannah Yick; the camera not only doesn't move, it expires. It's absolutely dreadful . . . and the Lido will show it soon after this current MCM purge, with equally filthy intervals. It was misdirected by Jacob Joestrapp, or someone.
Very fortunate to see "Author" Romain Gary's Les Oiseaux vont mourir au Peru (or Birds In Peru, the artistically directed Universal has now shortened it to) and really cannot think of it appearing anywhere, let alone on Wellington screens. It is as cinematically literate as Robbe-Grillet's effort, and because Gary has such a poor technical staff (and brain!) and has obviously seen all the wrong films (on purpose, I bet) the film is of that new breed of the "Cinema of the abrupt"; totally illiterate, boring, and embarrassing-songly laughable
It is very poorly to say this, for I had rather high hopes, once—I adore Jean Seberg (what we see of her) but her ravenous elfin insanitry glances, and ice-cool gowns, moodily roaming among sand and feathers, unclothed silent gawky males, odd ornitholigically stewpid prey, and grotesque fat rhetorical-nympho-maniacal vistas (she has a fetish about bird-shit, I decided) are pain, I repeat, painfull, painful. Dannielle Derrierre "plays a Lesbian (I think) with. as much convincement as a neurotic parrot (in drag, the resemblance is bon viva!!) and Maurice Ronet, a poet of passion and contemporary crap; he has that post-sexual look at life bloody tinge around the gills (and—sigh!—he's getting far too fat!). The film has had excisions made to it (mercifully, for length's sake) but a few honest kinky images remain, and remain .... and remain, garishly.
The Killing of Sister George (Cinerama R.Corp) is as stagy as the play wasn't (in its pin-subtly and charmingest,' sad mood) and Robert Aldrich has directed (I fail to believe the word "directed" applies to his work here, as Donen's "direction" of Staircase is in no way derivative or complementary to each respective style) it in a faithfully laborious atmosphere (the abortionary script is by Lukas Heller) with little imagination, and a queerly still camera. The colour processing is transcontinental to say the least.
Personally, the local production of this play by Downstage with Pat Evison and Cecily Poison last year had more of the atmosphere, bite and sadness: a near perfect realisation of a not too perfect play.
But here in 1969 we have Beryl Reid (who is wonderful, wonderful—it's not her unfailing fault the film is so bad) and Susannah York (God, she's crude in this; both in style and sense. Her Childie is sickening, bronzed, and uninnocent; she's terrible, and overacts with great jaw breaking, neck tendon bulging ease).
But! Mercycroft heavens; the "IT", performed by Aussie Coral Browne (Aldrich had her stryehninical pantings, tied to a wheelchair in Lylah (Clare), is just too, too much. Refeened, bitter, acridly gorgeous and bitchy (rather than butchy). immaculately unconcerned, she rises (oh, well . . .) in the ho hum "scene' (very well edited by our Censor, minus, I thankfully sigh, 4 unnecessary, revolting minutes) and does a lovely bit of molaric contortionism, mouth stretched sideways, a lustily wrotting worm.
"Sister George" is now the TV nurse, and these sections (with that fat-evil Ronald Fraser) are hilariously clone. Beryl Reid is absolutely fantastic (I repeat!) and she carries the entire film on her own, loveable, boozy and tragically off-key; but Aldrich introduces the "mentioneds" from Frank Marcus' play and extends them into heavy visuals, unnecessary, and for most of the time vulgar (the nun assault, the Lesbian club of Gateways—two very well handled scenes). For nearly 13,000 feet (far, far too long) it hardly stirs the emotion at all. It has cleaned the cinematic throat of the secret phlegm, but in no way does it present Lesbianism as an answer to hang a bloated essay on. Like Stanley Kauffmann I didn't think much of Susannah York's breasts, either.
Otley (Columbia) was a breezy little film, that certainly cleaned the air and the brain. Very much TV originated (scriptwriters) and director Dick Clement (a first feature, remember that name); a nice, not too fantastic plot, it abounded in credible character clots (Freddie Jones, James Villiers, Leonard Rossister, Alan Badel etc.) and Tom Courteney, looking much maturer, and lined, clowned delightfully among its junior Kafka-casy-edition scenes. Austin Dempster's colour was full of glorious tonal breaches. I enjoyed Clement's consistent use of old people getting in the way; and most of the silly jokes scattered like pop corn (I hope you read that fantastic review in the Sunday Times, attributed to Carl Foreman!) Villier's death, the sound of a neck being crushed by a bus, a cement-whitened death mask, I found rather gratuitous and revolting. How such a funny little film could go a miserable week, I shall never know.
Jack Cardiff photographed and directed Girl on a Motorcycle (I.F.D.) from.Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues' erotic-fantastique diary, with a style unique to the cinema and with (again!) a Fresh and completely unbridled approach, that captures the imagination in a most personal way, relating to young Marianne Faithfull's Rebecca, most brilliantly. People still hate this film, "trite, stewpidity", "yucky colour", etc, and who didn't baulk at the trailor? Unless you were prepared to accept Miss Faithfull and go along with her phantasies and creatively active mind, I don't blame you feeling disgusted. The use of treating the negative (per Mulberry Bush, and Head etc.) is extremely well integrated, and the raw, fleshy use of colour, at times erotic in its nuances of the countryside, is fantastic. I would like to write more on this film, but then this is only for the record, a Strange piece for Jack Cardiff (his last. The Mercenaries!) but a most rewarding one, if you care.
Oh! What a lovely War, possibly the best "musical" (which it is not) ever from Britain, has 20 Or so minutes missing, thanks to the Aussie distributors of Paramount, held responsible over there. This uniquely remarkable film, as fragmentarilly interesting and personal as Isadora, combines period pathos, songs, very convincingly, not quite up to Little-wood's brashness and loud raucous patriotic stompings of her World War I play musical. But for Richard Attenborough, a first film of compact richness for detail containing much beaut), and it is very, very clever. Maggie Smiths hilarious put-ons to the troops. Maurice Roave's charming Irish troop leader, Vanessa Redgrave, a strong, wonderful, Mrs Prankhurst and other assorted greats (Sir Laurence is a hilarious bumbling Mr French) work beautifully. I only hope it will be not too long until they release this film (Intact, Please!! This is, I repeat, Not Australia) commercially.
A most pleasing second-look film (though for Auckland a first release) was Delmer Daves' The Battle of the Villa Fiorita. From Rumer Goden's golden pen, this (still) latest work from Dave's is one of his best; certainly it has the honesty and warmth that made his westerns so popular, and still so convincing. Oswald Morris' location photography hasn't been surpassed on a bitter-sweet story such as this, with lovely Maureen O'Hara, and that oily lover Rosanna Brazzi (who does well in the later things though). The children, Martin Stephens and a smart debut from Olivia Hussey make this a sort of resemblance of the emotional day's weepie, but it has a courage lacking in many of today's sordid efforts, and the entire thing is a blessing in disguise. I urge you to see it if re-issued here.
A sentence for Staircase: Harrison and Burton cope sympathetically (don't you think?), but again it lacks the heart the play has. Their two rotting marms help out the bitching and Burton's turbanned stinting —his stinting, is a miraculous thing to behold (Don't you think?).
Since Reisz's Isadora (already commented on in Salient) is due for an early death (please let me say, this beauiful film is utterly convincing—Vanessa is incredible— despite Reisz's confusing attempts to shorten and straighten out certain "scenes", and the use of music, both as counterpoint—the slow movement of Schubert's great C major quintet is unbelievably moving—and necessity is vastly superior to any other film I have ever seen) the horizontal beamings of Bob Fosse s Sweet Charity seems almost another condemned to Universale gaping grave.