Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : The Human League

End Transmission

A Prayer For The Dying (1987)

"Defend your films and you risk being branded as difficult. Be passionate about them and you're vulnerable"

~ Mike Hodges

Mike Hodges certainly had a tough time of it in the 1980s. Three out of the last four films he made in that decade were taken away from him and recut by the studios. 1987's A Prayer For The Dying, an adaptation of a typical Jack Higgins potboiler was one of those cut. Goldwyn's excuse for the cut was to make the film "more acceptable to American audiences", yet it still bombed.

You have to feel sorry for Hodges, he wasn't even the original choice for the directors chair. Initially Franc Roddam of Quadrophenia fame was to helm A Prayer For The Dying but turned in a script that was deemed 'too violent' for audiences. Hodges was parachuted in and had just five weeks of preparation before going to shoot with the film's allotted star name; Mickey Rourke who was to play Fallon, an IRA hitman seeking redemption whose 'one last job' is witnessed by a priest.

Hodges secured both Alan Bates and Bob Hoskins (who sadly died, at the time of writing, yesterday evening aged 71 ; see previous obituary post for details here) as a gangland boss and the priest respectively despite their understandable reservations regarding the script. He also persuaded Rourke to go with Sammi Davis as his leading lady, a timid virginal blind girl, and not an unconvincing Californian leggy blonde! Unfortunately Goldwyn hated it. They found Rourke's performance listless, a great unfairness as Rourke delivers very well here as Fallon, despite struggling with the notoriously difficult Northern Irish accent required for the role - an accent they struggled to understand. It wasn't long before the scissors were out...

But could A Prayer For The Dying be saved? 

Let's be fair here,  I don't feel this was ever going to be a classic. The source material stems from one of the most prolific pulp writers going, Jack Higgins, and trades on some of his well known and familiar obsessions with Kray brothers like gangsters and 'charming' IRA terrorists (Thank heavens there were no Nazis in this one!) The BIG issue of The Troubles is not explored in any depth whatsoever, it's merely a backdrop for the melodramatic would be noirish tropes Higgins employs, like some third rate 1930s B movie. In Hodges' hands we (just about) see glimpses of something and it's only natural to compare it to his most renowned movie; Get Carter. Like that, this film concerns a lone killer (Rourke's Fallon) adrift in an alien world (here it's East London as opposed to the native Northern Ireland he is escaping from) except of course that this is no cold blooded Carter. Where the film does have some thought provoking interest is in the notion of a violent man turning his back on the horror and bloodshed and seeking some form of redemption. This is particularly pleasing given the latent parallel between this character and that of Hoskins priest, who himself is that familiar cliche of 'warrior' turned 'monk'; a former SAS man who turned to the Catholic Church when he had had enough of war and killing, but even this is mishandled and stodgy in this edit.

Given the events of the last 24 hours I have to of course reflect on Hoskins performance here. Hoskins was an actor who - like his good friend Michael Caine - appeared in some bad movies down the years and this must count as one of them, but he always seemed to give his all. His role here is not the easiest, its saddled by being the film's moral compass and has to represent the fanciful dichotomy between a professional killer and a holy man within his performance. It's less of an intense rendition from the Hoskins of that era that many of us may be familiar  with - indeed its naturally a little fusty and grandfatherly at times -  but he does get to have one scene that he would often excel in; that of the repressed persona slipping momentarily to allow the animal lurking beneath it to leap suddenly to the fore, with violent consequences. It's a trademark Hoskins would employ in many, better, films including of course The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa and Twenty Four Seven - three of his very best as far as I'm concerned.

The rest of the cast are capable enough with a young Liam Neeson and Alison Doody skulking around London as IRA operatives and an ever impressive and menacing turn from a young Christopher Fulford playing the runtish and sadistic brother of crime kingpin, Alan Bates. And so to Alan Bates utter cheese performance - it's a campy menacing delight, like a Disney cartoon villain made flesh. I've seen some criticism of his acting here, that it doesn't seem to fit or correspond those around it, but to be fair his character is pure panto, the kind of villain you think only exists in Bond movies, the type who tries to win the day by planting a bomb and gleefully counting down rather than doing the sensible thing and getting out of the bloody way!

Ultimately, I'm left in no doubt that A Prayer For The Dying is and could only ever be pure B movie fodder. Hodges may feel aggrieved, and I do for him too, but there's no way on earth his cut could turn this material into something classy. I daresay its an improvement on what we have, but - if it ever sees the light of day - it won't be the Holy Grail some may hope for or expect.

RIP Bob Hoskins

Another tragic loss that has shocked me; one of my favourite actors Bob Hoskins has passed away aged 71 from pneumonia. Bob had retired from acting due to Parkinsons in 2012. He died surrounded by his family at hospital yesterday and will be much missed.

Pennies From Heaven, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, Twenty Four Seven...these are just a clutch of great performances he has left us with. In a world full of cinematic superficiality he offered, as his most famous creation Harold Shand of The Long Good Friday once said, "A little bit more than a hotdog" Speaking of which, here's that genius acting moment from the film's last scene. You can see everything his character is thinking, it's just a masterclass...


The Alternative Party Political Broadcast.

Taken from Keith Topping's blog. Quoted for truth.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Six60

Great tune to get the adrenalin pumping...

This track's getting a lot of hype at the moment thanks to its inclusion in the new ITV drama Prey starring the great John Simm, back in Manchester.

Great trailer, looks a bit like The Fugitive. It starts tomorrow and I can't wait. Alongside Simm there's also Craig Parkinson and, in dramatic roles, Rosie Cavaliero and Ade Edmondson.

End Transmission

By George!

Call The Midwife's Helen George

Cars & Girls

Out On Blue Six : Alanis Morissette

Her CD has been the music accompaniment of the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon 'characters' in The Trip To Italy, as such I've found myself humming much of her hits these past few weeks!

End Transmission

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Wetherby (1985)

"Turns out I was a subplot. The real story was happening elsewhere"

Wetherby, David Hare's haunting yet not altogether balanced 1985 film, is an attempt to create intelligent and poetic theatrical drama in the context of the cinema.

On the surface, Wetherby is about a stranger (Tim McInnerny) who comes to the titular Yorkshire town and inveigles his way into a private dinner party before returning the next day to commit suicide in front of his hostess (Vanessa Redgrave)

Much of the film concerns itself not only in the subsequent police investigation and Redgrave and her small social circle (which includes Judi Dench, Ian Holm and Tom Wilkinson) coming to terms with what happened, with each witness statement offering up a news glimpse into what happened at the dinner party, Rashomon style.  

This plot point poses some intriguing and thought provoking questions; not only that of why did he choose to kill himself in such a way but also why does the death of a stranger, someone seemingly unknown, affect people so greatly? Hare's film, with an elliptical grace, explores the introspective here and suggests a loneliness and a sense of stagnation within Redgrave's principal character which will steadily reveal itself before the resolution. Like a game of 'Find The Lady' you'd do well to not completely focus on what it seems you are expected to focus on, one needs to looks beyond the shocking suicide of McInnerny and the subsequent red herring of the girl he harassed and stalked showing up, played by the wonderful Suzanna Hamilton. 

Indeed there's far more than initially meets the eye here as exemplified in the Redgrave character's flashbacks to her youth (where she is played by Natasha Richardson, Redgrave's daughter) and her love affair with a pilot heading out to Malaya. 

There's also the latent political content to consider, namely Hare's attempt to examine and explore the culture of the impersonal, which he saw as a key aspect of Thatcher's Britain, a tone he tried to invoke within the film.

Overall Wetherby may be a little uneven, it may beguile and frustrate audiences in equal measure but it has to be applauded for offering something so deep and intelligent away from the theatre and into the cinema.

Theme Time : Jimmy Smith - The Money Programme

The Money Programme started on BBC2 in 1966 as "a new weekly magazine about international business" Sounds dull doesn't it? The BBC executives at the time thought just that, deeming it a "boring" premise for a show and expressing reservations that a regular audience would be out there for such a show. Yet there was, and it ran for forty four years until 2010. 

It also had this incredible theme tune from Jimmy Smith, a brassy arrangement that positively oozed power, which originated from Lalo Schifrin's main theme for the 1964 George Peppard film The Carpetbaggers, based on the novel by Harold Robbins and inspired by the life of Howard Hughes.

Intimacy (2001)

Patrice Chéreau's film Intimacy from 2001 is a loose adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's  semi-autobiographical novel of the same name which explored the dilemmas and cowardice of a middle aged man leaving his wife and children to great controversial acclaim. The film, uses the crux of the novel as a springboard into a story about the man post-walk out, and how he begins a weekly affair with a stranger. It aims for even further controversy by depicting the frequent sex scenes between his actors, Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox, completely unsimulated.

What is it about real sex in a film that feels utterly shocking, striking disorientating and discordant in a way that porn does not?

It's just really hard to bring together in one's mind the famous faces, the narrative and the genitalia all at the same time I guess!

Much of Chéreau's film concerns anonymity and the way that living in a big sprawling city like London can offer us such a blessing and a curse. To that end its a great metropolis film, mixing the French extremes of the auteur with a strong sense of the capital, though it does walk a fine line, occasionally veering towards extreme pretension and ultimately I can't help but think how much cultural currency this film would have if the sex scenes weren't genuine. 

The cast is excellent - especially when they are allowed to actually act and not rut naked upon the squalid floor - with Timothy Spall also impressing as the cuckolded cab driving husband (Spall seems to have carved out a niche in playing cabbies; this, All or Nothing and The Street on TV) though the legandary Marianne Faithful strikes an odd and isolated note in the proceedings. Overall it's an impressive feat that the cast do actually impress, given that no character - certainly not the leads - is really truly likeable in the least.

Perhaps I need to watch it a couple more times to get a better understanding of what I actually feel about the film, but already I know some scenes and the overall atmosphere of the piece will stay with me for some time. 

And if anyone has ever wanted to see Mark Rylance's cock in various states of arousal, as well as with Kerry Fox's lips around it, well this is the film for you...

Friday, 25 April 2014

Smoking Hot

Bardot - is it any wonder people found smoking glamourous?!

Out On Blue Six : Sleeper

Back in the 90s, I rather liked Sleeper and that may have had just as much to do with Louise Wener's good looks as it did their good music. I've just read Wener's memoir's Different for Girls which I thoroughly recommend as a well written, self deprecating and funny take on growing up in the late 70s and 80s, taping Top of the Pops and the Radio 1 chart rundown on a little cassette machine, and then hitting the big time in the 90s and appearing on both those shows.

It's also wonderfully candid about the britpop indie scene in general and the likes of Blur (arrogant), The Boo Radleys (boring and habitual), Chris Evans (a tyrant), the Shooting Stars and Never Mind the Buzzcocks cast (Ulrika's unfriendly, Jonathan Ross vain), music journos (even more boring and habitual than The Boo Radleys) and the record companies (ruthless and uncaring) in particular.

End Transmission

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Leap Into Freedom

An uplifting, inspirational moment, captured forever

On the 15th August, 1961 the 19 year old East German soldier Conrad Schumann was stationed at the corner of Ruppiner Strasse and Bernauer Strasse to guard the barbed wire fence of what was to become part of the Berlin Wall, then on its third day of construction.

From his post, Schumann heard the gathering West Germans encouraging him to defect with cries of 'come over!'

The photograph above, taken by Peter Leibing, was the iconic result. 

Schumann subsequently moved from West Berlin into West Germany, marrying and settling down in Bavaria.

Sadly plagued by depression in his later life, Schumann committed suicide in 1998, hanging himself in his orchard.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Out On Blue Six : Ralph McTell

One more to round off St George's Day...

End Transmission

Looking Up Old Friends

As BBC2 celebrates its 50th, I find myself watching once more one of the finest dramas the channel has ever put out. 

1996's Our Friends In The North was seminal appointment television. I was engrossed first time round and, having it watched it a couple of more times down the years and again now, I'm equally just as engrossed.

Out On Blue Six : Kirsty MacColl

Today is St George's Day so, with that in mind, here's a suitably English themed song

End Transmission