Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Beautiful South, and Tonight's Tele Tip

Here's a classic from the great Paul Heaton and my hometown St Helens' own Jacqui Abbott,

You can see more of Heaton and Abbott tonight in the Channel 4 documentary, Paul Heaton: From Hull To Heatongrad, a documentary this very blogger was briefly asked to help out with earlier this year. It should be a good watch (and, if you ask me, a long overdue appraisal of one of the UK's finest songwriters) but, if you're not a night owl you might want to set your TV planner - it's on a ten past midnight!

End Transmission

Long Shot (1978)

Long Shot is director Maurice Hatton's dryly comic independent movie about two filmmakers (Glaswegian producer Charles Gormley and Liverpudlian writer Neville Smith) who descend upon the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1977 in the hope of securing both some financial backing and veteran US director Samuel Fuller for their screenplay 'Gulf and Western', a film about the oil boom in Aberdeen.

The film was made in true lo-fi observational style in black and white, pitching the likeable Gormley and Smith as versions of themselves in the midst of the festival, where they interact with various industry professionals using whatever time and resources were available in the moment. Their chosen target, Fuller, is expected to be in town to help promote Wim Wenders' The American Friend but, when the Hollywood legend proves elusive, the pair set their sights on Wenders instead, schmoozing him with the aid of their flatmate, the beautiful actress Ann Zelda. Smith also shanghais Susannah York for the role of the leading lady during her rehearsals for a stage production of Peter Pan; "The woman's role is a little underdeveloped", "And you immediately thought...Susannah York" she ruefully chides, before Smith puts his foot even further in it by mistaking her for both Julie Christie and Lyn Redgrave! 

Initially, Long Shot is a fun runaround across the glorious city of Edinburgh as the filmmakers try to track down the elusive Fuller or indeed each other, roping in many interesting supporting characters including a cameoing Stephen Frears as a biscuit salesman. But, as the film progresses, it becomes tragically clear how so much of the duo's original vision is slowly chipped away as more and more compromises are made to get the project off the ground. Gormley has many meetings in which he finds himself begging for funding from potential backers who bring their own ideas to the production (including an unseen Amsterdam financier who repeatedly asks Gormley if there's a role for Emmanuelle star Sylvia Kristel!), before courting the attention of Hollywood in the shape of John Boorman and Sandy Lieberson who make it clear that they will ultimately wrest control from him and distort his original vision. Is it any wonder that at this stage Smith descends into a neuroses that his ineffectual GP (a scene-stealing Alan Bennett) cannot help him with. When Gormley finally gets to Hollywood in the final stages of the film, he finds himself, like Dorothy in Oz, in a world of glorious technicolour.

In short, Long Shot is a very meta movie on the declining state of the British film industry in the late 1970s, a decline that it continues to more or less operate within. The film performed well at festivals in the late 1970s before securing a theatrical release in 1980 and one solitary screening on Channel 4 just five years later, before fading into obscurity. It's a fate it didn't deserve, because Long Shot not only still has so much to say about the industry, it also says it in a remarkably contemporary manner; predating as it does so many of those meta, play-a-version-of-ourselves productions that have become so prolific in the last ten years. As such, another near-forgotten gem has been unearthed by the BFI Flipside label - extras on this release include an early short feature from Hatton, Scene Nun, Take One which also stars Susannah York, an early '80s travelogue Sean Connery's Edinburgh, and a short documentary about the EIFF, Hooray for Holyrood, hosted by Robbie Coltrane and also dating from the '80s. 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Police

This track is dedicated to Theresa May who, in her decision to defer the crucial Brexit vote that was due to take place tomorrow, has revealed that she really can't stand losing

Not since a school sports day in the mid 1980s, when Andrew Sheridan bawled his eyes out because he had been placed in a race he had no chance of winning (and subsequently got re-positioned into a race that I was participating in and had been clear favourite...until he rocked up) have I seen such a clear case of cowardice and manipulation in the face of defeat. 

Unfortunately the real losers here are us, the public because, whether you voted to remain or to leave, it seems no one has got what they wanted under this disastrous Tory government.

End Transmission

Callan (1975)

Two years after the TV series concluded, Callan was back, of sorts, with this cinematic feature film. I say of sorts, because the central plot of this big screen spin-off ought to be familiar to any Callan fan as it's a reworking of his very first adventure (and his creator James Mitchell's novel); A Magnum for Schneider

Whenever anyone mentions the antithesis of James Bond, it's invariably Michael Caine's down-at-heel agent Harry Palmer who is considered the prime example. But Palmer wasn't an assassin like Bond, so the suggestion doesn't quite work, however much I love that character. The real antithesis to the sophisticated and clubbable agent with a licence to kill is in fact David Callan, brought vividly to life by Edward Woodward. Just like Bond, Callan is an efficient trained killer, but it is there that the similarities end. Callan is a former soldier and an ex convict. He's working class, far from glamourous, prone to cynicism and disillusionment and deeply troubled by his conscience. He's an expert marksman who kills because his superiors - specifically the boss codenamed Hunter (played here by Eric Porter but, in the TV series, by several actors; the character's interchangeability rivalling The Prisoner's Number 2 and pre-empting Bond's M) - know that he's good at it, but he doesn't really like it and he can't ever leave his job because those very same superiors would order his own death, probably at the hands of the eager Toby Meres (played by Peter Egan here, but played initially by Peter Bowles and then, brilliantly, by Anthony Valentine); an 'Old Etonian Al Capone' who is effectively a Bond character depicted without the sympathy that Ian Fleming or the Eon films afford him.  The shadow of Callan loomed large over Woodward's subsequent career - indeed, it was thanks to that programme that he was given the lead role of The Equalizer, - the role that made his name in the US - because the creators lived in England in the early '70s and fondly remembered his performance in (the much harder edged and gritty) Callan

But what of the film itself? Well it's solid enough, but lacks any of the real flair required to ensure it stands out in the crowded market of cinema. Being a direct remake of a previous story doesn't help either, as it makes it all seem rather surplus to requirements. Mitchell opens the action out - ensuring that the original 50 minute tale accommodates a 90 minute run time - but it could be argued that it bodges the opportunity this gives it, taking far too long to actually get going. Mitchell's screenplay and Don Sharp's direction prefers to focus more on atmosphere than action and, whilst the former was the winning ingredient of the series, you get the feeling they ought to have ramped up the action a little more to thrill cinema audiences. There are a few physical skirmishes though; a punch-up between Callan and Meres, a cat-and-mouse car chase and an 'iron fists' fatal punch Callan employs against Dave 'Darth Vader/Green Cross Code Man' Prowse. This particular sequence is striking; there's a long and initially unexplained set-up to it which features Callan spending his nights pummelling his fists into a bowl of wet sand and, when the fatal punch comes, it's shown in a peculiar psychedelic solarised effect that  really dates the film. The downbeat, everyday sequences are more successful and still stand up today; Callan and Lonely's meets in dreary pubs, Callan throwing Hunter's agents off his scent across London, Lonely secreting the Magnum revolver in a Lord Kitchener adorned bag of sprouts and his neighbours banging on the pipes to alert him when a police car arrives in the street.

What does work about Callan is the performances. Both Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter return to their roles as the jaded Callan as his malodorous sidekick Lonely and it's a delight to see them play off one another once more. There's also the return of an occasional supporting character from the original series in the shape of the department's MO Dr Snell played by Clifford Rose. There's a really good scene in which the coldblooded Snell explains how - through a mixture of hypnotism and hallucinogenics - he's deliberately brought about a psychiatric breakdown on a witness to Callan's murder of Prowse's character to ensure there are no comebacks upon the department. It's a repulsive moment played with no compunction that says much about the ruthless efficiency many of us would suspect our government's intelligence services would possess and Rose, who went on to terrify the nation as SS Officer Kessler in TV's Secret Army and its spin-off Kessler, is suitably and quietly chilling in the scene. 

Eric Porter does a good job as Hunter but Peter Egan is less successful in bringing Meres to life and struggles to step out from the shadows of the great Anthony Valentine. Still, it's quite interesting to see Callan square up to Big Breadwinner Hog, even if I did keep expecting Egan to say 'Hullo Martin' as he would often do in his other most famous role as Paul in the 80s BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. Carl Mohner of Rififi fame is Callan's target, the former Nazi, Schneider, but he doesn't possess the same charisma that Joseph Furst has in the original TV play. The beautiful Catherine Schell stars as Scneider's girlfriend and lends the film a bit of glamour but Callan remains, like the series, a mostly sexless affair (so ignore the bikini clad babe who is presumably Schell in the poster art, because there's none of that here - neither is there a helicopter and the train is pushing it too). There are also several familiar faces in the cast, including Kenneth Griffith, Don Henderson and Nadim Sawalha. 

Watchable but by no means a necessity if you have the series, what ultimately scuppers this big screen spin-off for me is the  inappropriately jaunty harmonica score  from Wilfred Josephs. Compare that to the famous Jack Trombey theme 'This Man Alone' from the TV series, complete with its swinging lightbulb, and it's a strange decision to make.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: John Lennon

Yesterday marked the thirty-eighth anniversary of John Lennon's death. Thirty eight years on, Lennon's gone and the bastards in power have never changed. 1971's Gimme Some Truth may well have been about Nixon and his mob, but take a look at this particular stanza from that song and you'll find it screams Trump, an idiot who had the audacity to use Revolution 9 at his rallies.

'I'm sick to death of seeing things from
Tight-lipped condescending mama's little chauvinists
All I want is the truth, just give me some truth
I've had enough of watching scenes from
Schizophrenic egocentric paranoiac primadonnas
All I want is the truth just give me some truth'

To paraphrase a line from Mark Herman's Brassed Off; what kind of God allows John Lennon to die and yet keeps these greedy, corrupt and coldblooded capitalist politicians alive? Why is it that those who advocate peace and a better way of life are condemned to death by a society that will forever allow selfish shit to rise to the surface?

Now more than ever, the cry is Gimme Some Truth

And remember, 'War is over! If you want it - Happy Christmas from John and Yoko'

End Transmission

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Our Contemptible Government

This week, Theresa May the cunt and her cabinet of little cunts became the first in history to be found in contempt of parliament for refusing to publish legal advice pertaining to Brexit. Whilst Paris erupts with the yellow vest protests, the UK seems to meekly shrug and accept this disgusting antics of its government. Why is that?

I mean, I get that we are all sick to death of hearing about Brexit, I honestly do. I am too, but the fact remains that, even if you are happy to accept a government so corrupt as to become the first to openly show contempt for the democratic process of parliament, are you really happy to sit back and accept all the other times Mrs May's government have shown their contempt for this country and its citizens?

What about the contempt they have shown for the UN, rejecting their damning report on the austerity measures the government have needlessly put in force since 2010? Their actions have increased homelessness, child poverty, food bank usage and suicide. Why do we think we can afford to let this continue?

What about the contempt this government has shown towards the Windrush generation? A blatant example of institutionalised racism that they attempted to pass the buck by spurring their right wing press baron acolytes into action with a series of 'Labour are anti-semitic' non-stories.

What about the contempt they hold for the environment, continuing to push fracking in areas that had democratically opposed the introduction of such a dangerous and untested process?

What about the contempt they show for the disabled and the unemployed with their continued pursuit of Universal Credit, despite the facts that the new benefit is harming people and simply isn't working?

And these are just the examples that are still happening. What about those examples of contempt they've shown that were mercifully challenged, such as their defeat in the Supreme Court to sideline parliament and due democratic process to get their Brexit deal passed unchallenged? Their benefit cap which was defeated in court because it impoverished single-parent families for no good reason? Their policy of free labour for Workfare, also defeated by the courts? Their plan to shut down Lewisham hospital, again defeated in court? And their attempts to challenge the condemnation of their track record with air pollution in court for a total of three times, the result of which was £500,000 of public money wasted in their defence?

They may look like it, they may even act like it, but this Conservative government is not a joke. They are corrupt, dishonest, barbaric and cruel and their only desire is to serve their own self interests. The joke is on us, because we sit back and let them do it to us. 

But, if May's Brexit deal is voted down on Tuesday, we could see a vote of no confidence in the house. If that follows, she has just 14 days to form a new government before parliament is dissolved and a general election is triggered. We need to do all we can to say that 2018 is the end of May. 2019 needs to be the year of Corbyn and a government who genuinely want to heal and improve society. Please, do what you personally can; if there is a demo or march near you, go to it. Sign petitions and write to your MP. Join the opposition and turn up at you local branch office and ask what you can personally do. Join Momentum or make a donation to them to prepare them for the likelihood of a general election in the new year. But above all, when (not if) there is a GE, vote. Vote for Labour and make a difference, because remember this - after 18 months of Macron's centrist policies that have attacked the living standards of the French, the people have risen up in protest. In just eighteen months. The Conservatives have been doing the same thing to us for eight years. And we have re-elected them for it twice. Never again, please. Never again.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: Buzzcocks, RIP Pete Shelley

I can't believe I'm typing this, but it's been announced that Pete Shelley died yesterday of a suspected heart attack at the age of 63.

Shelley was really important to me as a young man and the music of Buzzcocks is still as fresh today as it always was. Here's just a few of my favourites...

"But after all life's only death's recompense" ~ Pete Shelley,Manchester, 1978.

RIP and thanks for the music

End Transmission

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

RIP Peter Armitage

Sheffield born actor Peter Armitage has died at the age of 78.

Armitage was perhaps best known for playing builder Bill Webster, father of Kevin, in Coronation Street, a role he first played in 1984, before returning to the show for a second stint in 1995 to 1997, and for a final time in 2006 to 2011. Armitage was diagnosed with bowel cancer shortly after leaving the soap and had been in remission.

Armitage was an actor I always liked, because he possessed a credible authenticity in the many working class roles he played. He never struck you as someone who seemed to be acting, you genuinely believed he could be the person he was playing, perhaps because he was no stranger to hard graft in real life; before entering showbusiness  he worked in engineering, in the merchant navy and in 1964 dug the London Underground Victoria Line. Prior to securing his role in Coronation Street, Armitage appeared in this memorable advert for the Yellow Pages. He was indeed right about that saddle...

His TV career stretched back to 1970 and his many credits included roles in Ken Loach's Days of Hope, Alan Bleasdale's GBH, Jimmy McGovern's Hearts and Minds and Dockers, and Russell T Davies' The Second Coming, in which he played the father of Christopher Eccleston's modern day Christ. He also starred in the Steve Coogan film The Parole Officer in 2001, played Sergeant Kerby alongside Michael Caine in 1988's Jack the Ripper and appeared as David Jason's older, more confident brother in the 1970s sitcom Lucky Feller. He made guest appearances in programmes such as The Sweeney, The Professionals Softly Softly, Strangers, Bulman, Rockliffe's Babies, Lovejoy, Crown Court, Casualty, Holby City, The Royal, Heartbeat, Fat Friends, Peak Practice, Medics, and The Bill. His last TV appearance was in an episode of Doctors in 2013.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: Gerry & the Pacemakers

My local ITV news programme, the legendary Granada Reports, met with Gerry Marsden of Gerry & the Pacemakers this evening who had some momentous news to share...he is retiring from performing after 60 years.

He may be packing public life in, but the strains of his hit Ferry Cross The Mersey will forever be heard as commuters and tourists depart from the Mersey Ferry into Liverpool...

Whilst his other big hit, You'll Never Walk Alone, will still reign at Anfield...

Thank you for the music, Mr Marsden

End Transmission

Girl on a Bicycle

Deborah Watling

Monday, 3 December 2018

Out On Blue Six: Oasis

Come the early '00s, I'd sort of given up on Oasis, It wasn't necessarily them I guess, it was probably me. If I'm honest I felt that Songbird was a pleasant enough ditty but was perhaps a little too on the nose with its Beatles influences. Listening again now, I think it's matured into something a little more in its own right down the years

End Transmission

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

Oh God, where do you start with The Other Side of the Wind? Reviewing this film is like trying to catch the wind. In many ways, it feels like Orson Welles is trolling us from beyond the grave, which does bring me to my first point; let's just pinch ourselves yeah? Because it is 2018, and we are genuinely reviewing a new film from Orson Welles...who'd have thought that was ever going to happen?

The general view to take with The Other Side of the Wind is that it is a knowing satire from Welles on the influence of European arthouse cinema on what became known as New Hollywood. But I think that this is a film that must be considered via individual tastes. Regardless of what anyone takes from it, The Other Side of the Wind is ultimately dependent on how we personally view Welles himself, because he is after all someone who is literally all things to all men. 

For me personally, I was immediately struck by the fact that the film appears (again, to me at least) to be a treatise on Welles' relationship with Peter Bogdanovich. My own personal hero in life is Peter Cook, another talented genius who, like Welles, is someone who is considered by many critics to have never truly achieved his full potential after his initial promise. Cook had a particularly venomous and bitter streak of humour towards those he suspected were in awe of him even though he believed them to be strong and capable talents in their own right, and this included his partner Dudley Moore. I suspect that Welles was someone who shared this caustic view too - how else would it explain the way he depicts the relationship between the great director JJ  Hannaford (John Huston, in a role that mixes Welles with Hemingway) and his admiring protege Brooks Otterlake, played by Bogdanovich himself? 

Factor in the decision to include the beautiful yet incompetent Mavis Henscher (played by the very amateur actor Cathy Luvas), a character whom is largely acknowledged to be based on Bogdanovich's then girlfriend (and much criticised) Cybill Shepherd and the joke is not only on the nose and cruel, but even darker when you consider that the couple gave Welles house room at the time.  However this joke is arguably now on Welles himself; the fact that Huston's 70 year old filmmaker is shown to 'score' with the underage girl now strikes an altogether different note in 2018 than I imagine it would have done in the mid '70s.  

It was obviously a gargantuan task to take the 100+ hours of footage that Welles shot throughout the 1970s and shape it into a two hour film. It's understandably a hotchpotch, in which the most accomplished sequences are those that are ostensibly the 'film-within-a-film' which feature Welles' muse and partner Oja Kodar. These deeply erotic and stylish scenes possess an ad-man's creativity that would put the likes of Adrian Lyne and Tony Scott to shame in the subsequent decade. The sequences that focus on Hannaford and the various documentarians who seek to capture his 70th birthday party (and ultimately his mysterious death) for posterity are less sure and more haphazard, mixing film stock and bearing the brunt of heavy editing and a listless and somewhat alienating atmosphere. What does stand out from them however is Welles' recurring fascination for fakes and legitimacy as evinced through the slow reveal in the narrative of the origins of Hannfords's new found star, Oscar 'John' Dale (Robert Random). With that in mind, we must ask whether The Other Side of The Wind was a legitimate film or was it a fake in itself? 

Well, who knows. What I do know is that many in the accompanying documentary, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead (also on Netflix), argue against the notion that Welles never truly wanted to finish his work, but their arguments to prove otherwise always point towards the work that he did finish - which was inevitably the work of a much younger, more confident man with far less to prove. At this stage in his career I do personally wonder whether Welles, with his oft-admitted fear and dislike of the comparisons that were inevitably drawn with Citizen Kane, preferred to believe that the project he was working on was going to be his masterpiece, a dream that he could only ensure if he kept such projects incomplete and for himself. Netflix may well have put together Welles' material and created a completed film, but it's ambiguous as to whether it is what the mercurial man himself truly imagined or indeed wanted it to be. That it's bloody good regardless remains a credit to those who pieced it together and to Welles in the first place.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Theme Time: Billy Connolly & Phil Coulter - Super Gran

"Stand back Superman, Iceman, Spiderman, Batman Robin too. Don't wanna cause a ruckus but BA Baracus have I got a match for you"

Those opening lyrics alone should give you an instant rush of nostalgia, for it's the theme tune to the one and only Super Gran sung by the equally inimitable Billy Connolly!

Based on the books by Forrest Wilson about a grandmother with superpowers, this kids TV series was adapted by Jenny McDade for Tyne Tees Television and ran from 1985 to 1987. It starred Gudrun Ure in the titular role, with Iain Cuthbertson as her nemesis, Scunner Campbell. The show attracted several guest stars including George Best, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Troughton, Geoff Capes, Charles Hawtry and um, Gary Glitter. The least said about him appearing in a show for children, the better.

This was a firm favourite of mine as a kid but I'm surprised it ran for just two series and one Christmas special. Apparently there were plans for a third series and even a movie, but the kibosh was put on it all when Tyne Tees decided to focus their budget on daytime quiz shows such as Chain Letters instead. What a stupid decision!

In 2003, The Glasgow Herald conducted a poll to find The Most Scottish Person in the World, with Super Gran coming a respectable seventh. At around the same time the show was a huge ratings hit in Cuba, where it was dubbed into Spanish.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Breaking of Bumbo (1970)

Andrew Sinclair wrote his semi-autobiographical novel The Breaking of Bumbo in 1959. It told the story of a young Guards officer who, whilst undergoing various rites of passage in the regiment, becomes sympathetic towards the peace movement and organised student protest. A decade later, Sinclair formed Timon Films with Jeffrey Selznick with the sole intention of adapting his novel for the big screen. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo were attached to direct but, following a falling out with the producers, it was left to Sinclair himself to direct the film which received one TV screening by the BBC on Sunday 17th August 1975, before fading into an obscurity that Network DVD have subsequently rescued it from.

Richard Warwick of If...fame stars as young Bumbo Bailey who enlists in the Brigade of Guards and initially seems destined for an orthodox military career - that is until he falls for the beautiful Susie (Joanna Lumley) who is a key player in a subversive agit-prop performance and political demonstrations group. It isn't long before he falls in with the group and begins to see just how unfair the system actually is. Embracing the anti-establishment, counter-culture cause, Bumbo sets out to convince his soldiers to come out in favour of the students protesting for peace (real footage of the anti-Vietnam protest at London’s US embassy in Grosvenor Square from March 1968 is included) in the hope that, united together, students and the military will be able to bring about a real change in the world. 

The scene in which Bumbo first puts his suggestion to the soldiers under his command in a pub after a regimental rugby match is arguably the film's highlight. The politics of the piece - the argument about why orders are followed blindly, especially when it pitches them against their own people - remains deeply valid and strong and there's a great moment where Bumbo's Sergeant Major (the always reliable Derek Newark, a much underappreciated character actor) tries to address the fact that Bumbo, as an officer, has the luxury of an education and class to consider orders and such ideas, whereas he and the ordinary guardsman seated there do not. To make his point that they are different, he remarks that Bumbo is holding his pint glass by the handle, whilst every soldier present (including a young Warren Clarke) grips their pints away from the handle.

Less successful now is the way that the radical politics are depicted. It's the typical swinging '60s idea of peace and love and counter-revolutionaries, with a tubby flak-jacketed John Bird leading the charge with a peculiar accent, melting the wax models of British heroes and dignitaries with a blow torch at Tussauds, and generally invoking stereotypical, colourful anarchy. I haven't read the original novel but I do wonder if it has dated somewhat better given that it presumably explores the beatnik era and the rise of the CND as opposed to the more cartoonish on-screen excess of 60s counter culture. Perhaps most damning for the film was the fact that the original release date was delayed, meaning that by the time it finally hit the cinemas in late 1970, the era of swinging and fashionable London seemed rather passe. It's not a great film and it doesn't really go anywhere until Lumley arrives, but its an interesting time capsule that offers a very touristy view of London at the time, and I found the central notion of a natural-born officer having the kind of change of heart that makes him consider the shifting sands our democracy is built upon an intriguing one. As a result, The Breaking of Bumbo ought to take its place alongside other lesser known or overlooked '60s pictures such as Privilege and The Jokers

Of course Joanna Lumley's career went from strength to strength after this film and she now enjoys national treasure status, but it's Richard Warwick who takes the acting honours here, reminding us that he was taken far too soon during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, leaving behind just a few memorable appearances in the likes of the aforementioned If..., Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, and Derek Jarman's Sebastiane and The Tempest. Also in the cast are a few familiar faces still working to this day such as Jeremy Child, Edward Fox (himself a former Guards officer), Simon Williams and Chris Chittell aka Emmerdale's Eric Pollard. Andrew Sinclair went on to direct the unholy trio of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole in 1972's Under Milk Wood, before moving on to another hellraiser in the shape of Oliver Reed in the peculiar Blue Blood a year later. His last film was 1982's Tuxedo Warrior, starring Mancunian hardman Cliff Twemlow!

Just a note about the Network release. It claims to be uncut but that simply isn't true - missing from the film is a sequence featuring Lumley and Warwick in the nude, perhaps the former still has a power of veto to excise such scenes. And speaking of the divine Ms Lumley,I'll just leave this here...

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Hoffman (1970)

"Night thoughts, Saturday October the 3rd. Every girl is a flower garden...with a compost heap at the bottom. And many a noble man has had to drown his dwarf wife in a zinc bath or strangle an idiot girl on a muddy common in order to draw attention to himself. Reality betrays us all"

Hoffman is a 1970 'comedy' about a middle-aged man whose obsession with an attractive young work colleague leads him to blackmail her into spending the week with him. That it proved a box office flop is perhaps no surprise. I don't think it's just because billing it as a comedy was perhaps false advertising either (these days the term dramady would be used and audiences would be more familiar with such a style) I think the reason Hoffman alienated viewers is clear to see; for women it perhaps confirmed their suspicions about men. For men it perhaps spoke a little too truthfully about the things we try to hide.

Its star is Peter Sellers, who has fascinated me since childhood. It was his films as Inspector Clouseau that probably put him on my radar and I find them very funny. From there I discovered The Goon Show (and would get tapes bought for me for Christmas and birthdays) and a raft of other films. I even had a video that was a compilation of his many screen appearances (tellingly, only one brief scene from Hoffman was included; the moment where he teaches his co-star Sinéad Cusack how to play 'Chopsticks' on the piano). But my fascination didn't end there and, because I was a strange child, I became fascinated by his complex personality too and I was soon reading everything I could about him, including biographies by Graham Stark and his son Michael Sellers and eventually Roger Lewis' sobering book, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The key to understanding Sellers' chameleon-like talents is the tragic fact that he felt he had no personality or identity of his own, that it had become lost behind the funny voices. Stories such as his emotional breakdown at the end of trip down memory lane with some fellow ex servicemen ("Whatever happened to LAC Sellers?" he is said to have sobbed at the recollections of his pre-fame existence), his fear of stepping onto the stage of the chat show Parkinson as himself, because he claimed there was no Peter Sellers (he opted instead to arrive dressed as a Gestapo officer and perform an impromptu comedy routine before being coaxed into the interview itself), and this comment on (of all things) The Muppet Show, “I could never be myself. You see, there is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.”; a seemingly glib comment that reveals a little too much about the emptiness within him.

This emptiness haunted his private life and was rarely seen on screen, as so many productions relied upon his gifted comic abilities and mimicry. But that's not to say that some of his film performances hinted at the man behind the mask. His decision to play his role in the 1967 spoof Bond adventure Casino Royale dead straight as part of his desire to convince as a romantic comedy lead proved to be a mistake he soon turned tail and ran from - literally, leaving the film mid-shoot and refusing to complete his part - perhaps because it highlighted the vacancy behind his eyes. This was a lesson he failed to learn when, just three years later, he took the titular role here.  So aghast was Sellers at what he believe it revealed about him personally that he fell into a deep depression after filming concluded and petitioned his friend Bryan Forbes, the then head of EMI, to not only ban the film from being released but also to let him buy back the negatives so that he could destroy them to put an end to the film and secure his secrets in one fell swoop. Though Sellers didn't get his wish, Hoffman - which he subsequently dismissed as a disaster to anyone who would listen - wasn't screened in New York for over a decade (and after Sellers' death) which suggests that perhaps he did have some influence in burying the film to some extent.

Rather like those cultures who believe having their photograph taken somehow robs them off their spirit, Sellers was terrified at the thought that the void he believed lay at his core was now captured and committed forever to celluloid. I can certainly understand why Sellers feared what he brought to the screen here, because there's just nowhere for him to hide. Granted his inauthentic, much cultivated RP accent is on display, but the rest of him is arguably the purest Sellers - the emptiness he tried to disguise laid bare. Not only that, there's the fact that, as I alluded to at the start of this review, the misogyny that exists in man is also revealed for all to see and, for someone as self-loathing as Sellers, the repercussions of that must have felt even greater to him. As Hoffman, Sellers is the epitome of misogyny; the kind of man who idolises women, yet hates them too because they destroy his fantasies when they reveal they are human just like him ("Reality betrays us all" indeed). Once the object of his desires, the seemingly porcelain doll like Miss Smith (Cusack - and it's telling that he only ever refers to her as 'Miss Smith' because to use her christian name would, he admits, identify her as a person to him), does just this with her litany of all too common, human ailments and her overall inability to see things his way, he is quick to dismiss them as 'idiots'. He goes on to share caustic, disturbing thoughts about them into his dictaphone (see the quote at the head of this review) and ultimately describes them, as one memorable line puts it, as ''Fallopian tubes with teeth''. It's an ugly, candid display of woman-hating misanthropy, but perhaps not as ugly as his enamoured state; which sees him stalk after Miss Smith like a vampire, proclaiming that her youth is wasted on her, using metaphors that refer to her as something to be devoured, and literally sniffing at her clothes and hair. “Please make yourself look as if you want to be fertilized,” he (would-be) purrs at one point. It's repellent and nakedly lustful behaviour that lays a portentous tone of potential violence upon the proceedings, which is further enhanced by the mystery Miss Smith slowly uncovers surrounding his previous marriage. Whilst the events of Hoffman never actually stray into the realms of horror or thriller, the fear and apprehension that underpins every moment makes it as disturbing a watch as any from those genres. 

Essentially a two-hander in the main between Sellers and Cusack, Hoffman was adapted by Ernest Gébler from his own novel, Shall I Eat You Now?, which itself had been based on the 1967 TV play Call Me Daddy starring Donald Pleasence and Judy Cornwell. Like that play, the film is directed by Alvin Rakoff and he pitches the battle of wits between his two stars perfectly, all set to a fittingly haunting and intriguing score from Ron Grainer. Whilst the ending is a little unconvincing, especially in relation to Miss Smith's character and motivations, the film remains strong thanks to Sellers' incredible performance in the lead role. Ultimately, it's hard to truly hate Hoffman, but it's just as hard to pity or sympathise with him too. Whilst many will say Sellers only ever really played it straight in films like the Brit Noir Never Let Go and the POW flick The Blockhouse, I actually think he gives his best dramatic performance here - it's just a shame that Sellers himself could not find peace with what it revealed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Love Is Thicker Than Water (2016)

This is a beautiful film, so I'm really surprised by the negativity that some people have met it with. Yes, I'm looking at you Bradshaw of the Grauniad! Though I really shouldn't be surprised by your ultra short, are-the-pubs-open-yet? piss poor reviews now.

A story which begs the question of whether love can beat familial bonds, Love Is Thicker Than Water has naturally drawn comparisons everywhere with Romeo and Juliet, but writing and directing team Ate de Jong and Emily Harris haven't really updated the tale of star-crossed lovers for our times, this is a story that stands up in its own right. 

The super talented Johnny Flynn stars as Arthur Davies, a boy from Port Talbot up in London with dreams to become an animator but with little practical ambition to achieve them. He meets and quickly falls in love with Vida (Lydia Wilson), a cellist who is hoping to get into the London Philharmonic. Theirs is a believable relationship that could last the distance, providing they come to terms with their differing families; Arthur's is Welsh, working class and passionate despite the unspoken burden the they share regarding the sudden death of Arthur's older brother, whilst Vida's family are Jewish, middle class professionals with haughty humour. The critical point in their relationship comes when tragedy strikes both their families. Jessica Stevenson, Henry Goodman, Ellie Kendrick and Al Weaver play Vida's family, whilst Robert Blythe, Sharon Morgan, Remy Beasley, Jessica Gunning and Ade Lanipekun play Arthur's.

A folksy soundtrack (including Lulu & the Lampshades) some animated intervals and an all round beautiful looking cast may mark this out as a touch hipstery, but fear not; this is a genuine, emotional, engaging and authentic film; a real slice of life with all the odd tonal beats that reality so often comes with but is seldom seen in cinema. Perhaps that's why it alienated some audiences? I dunno. I just really identified with this, especially Arthur's family. There's a scene (I won't give any spoilers) where they are attempting to do something respectful and 'right' by societies conventions, but their natural anxieties, passions, frustrations and failings come to the fore in a way that I know all too well from my own family. And in one beautiful moment, they stop being abrasive to one another, realise the ridiculousness of their attempts to be 'proper' and laugh in a way that I sometimes wish that I and my own family could. That kind of authenticity is rare in film - it's usually reserved for Mike Leigh.

Also Lydia Wilson wearing a Butthole Surfers T-shirt may be the cutest thing I've seen in a long time...surpassed only by her agog expression from behind heavy spectacles as she watches Flynn masturbate in the shower!

On a sad note, the actor playing Arthur's dad Robert Blythe passed away last week at the age of 71. That his character dies in this film, makes it all the more poignant.

Port Talbot born Blythe was best known for playing agoraphobic ex con Fagin in the popular BBC Wales sitcom High Hopes from 2001 to 2008 but, in a career that stretched back to the 1970s, he appeared in a range of films and shows including How Green Was My Valley, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, Ennal's Point, Crown Court, The District Nurse, Dempsey and Makepeace, Casualty, Preston Front, Boon, Civvies, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Darklands, The Bill and Doctors. 


Tuesday, 27 November 2018

RIP Andrew Burt

Another day and another loss within the entertainment industry as it's been announced that the actor Andrew Burt passed away on the 16th of November at the age of 73.

The Yorkshire born actor was best known for being the first person to play the prodigal Jack Sugden in Emmerdale, appearing in the very first episode of the long running soap in October 1972. He stayed with the role for a year, returning for a stint in 1976, but declined a second return in 1980, whereupon the character was recast and played by Clive Hornby. Such was his lasting legacy in the role he helped to create that whenever he appeared on TV for years after in our house someone always said; "The real Jack Sugden", or "Jack Sugden, when he was a novelist" (because it's now a rather forgotten fact that Sugden was originally a best selling author who had escaped his family tradition of working the land, until being forced back following a death in the family in the debut episode) This is a similar phenomenon that my family engage in whenever Alan Rothwell appears in anything.

Burt also provided the voice/jingles of Radio Norwich in I'm Alan Partridge (indeed there's one particular jingle that always makes me crease with laughter and that's "Danny Franchetti's Jazz box!") and even appeared in one episode as Alan's old headmaster 'Sweaty' Raphael. Other memorable roles included Lt. Peek in Warship, King Arthur in 1979's The Legend of King Arthur, Gulliver in Gulliver in Lilliput, Valgard in the 1983 Doctor Who serial Terminus, Mr Farland in Swallows and Amazons Forever!, Chief Inspector Oates in Campion (which saw him reunited with Peter Davison from his time on Doctor Who) and the dual role of brothers Provastian and Ninastian Jackson in Look Around You. He also had guest appearances in all the usual shows including Bergerac (twice, no less), Casualty, London's Burning, Spooks, Heartbeat, New Tricks, Doctors, EastEnders, Tales of the Unexpected, CATS Eyes, Juliet Bravo, The Gentle Touch, Crown Court, Callan and Blake's 7. His last TV appearance was in the serial killer drama Wire in the Blood in 2006 whereupon he seems to have retired to work instead as a counsellor specialising in treating stress.


Monday, 26 November 2018

Georgy Girl (1966)

"...Of course, if it were made now, Georgy needn’t opt for compromise, as single-parent families are much more accepted in modern society, but it’s important to remember that in the 1960s such a life was near impossible. That’s why I cannot agree with the negativity some heap upon this film. I can see why it would be more satisfying to see Georgy defy society by realising her own self-worth and maternal capabilities enough to abandon Joss, jilt Leamington and head off into the sunset with the baby, but around the corner would be the very same social workers who tore the children from Carol White’s arms in Cathy Come Home, because that’s what life was like then. By all means, hate the period, but not the film. Georgy Girl is only ever reflective of its time, an extraordinary moment which – much like the various influences upon it – saw the demise of the old and the birth of the new."

See my full review at The Geek Show

RIP Bernardo Bertolucci

How saddening to lost not one but two cinematic visionaries in the space of just a couple of days. First Nicolas Roeg, and now Bernardo Bertolucci, the two-time Oscar winning Italian director, has died at the age of 77.

Bertolucci was best known for the controversial Last Tango In Paris (1972) starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, as well as the epic nine Oscar winning The Last Emperor, his biopic of Chinese emperor Pu Yi from 1987. Other films included The Conformist, 1900, The Dreamers, Stealing Beauty and The Sheltering Sky. I have to be honest and say some of those listed have, for far too long, been on my watchlist. I should really get around to seeing them now.