We'd been hunting in an idle sort of way for Barney Platt Mills' 1969 London drama Bronco Bullfrog for years. Turns out it's available on yerTube in its entirety. Fascinating for many reasons, not least its vanished east London locations. Platt Mills' next film would be 1971's Private Road starring Withnail & I's writer-director Bruce Robinson - a film which is, in some ways, a demo version of Withnail.
High on the list of things we like at the moment is the new album Moon by Snowbird, featuring Simon Raymonde, once of The Cocteau Twins and thereafter the man behind Bella Union records, whose things we'd basically buy as soon as they were made, if we could.
His partner in this is Stephanie Dosen, whose Liz Frazer-ish phrasing means Moon hovers mysteriously between woozy intimacy and wintery distance, much as The Cocteau Twins did. What we were really hoping to post here is the mesmeric remix by Robin Gibb of their track I Heard The Owl Call My Name. We can't find it, but the original will more than suffice. (This is not, like, an official video or anything.)
Thereafter, a link to watch the 1973 film adaptation of Margaret Craven's 1967 novel I Heard The Owl Call My Name, about a dying priest (played by Tom Courtenay) sent to First Nations Canada. I remember reading the book years ago and finding it kinda haunting in the way that films about dying priests, especially in Canada, can sometimes be. Of the film I can say nothing useful 'cos I haven't watched yet. But, y'know, it's there. If you need it.
Joseph Losey's 1967 film Accident and The Servant from 1963, both starring Dirk Bogarde, are being re-released on DVD next week. Of the vast amount of writing on film kicking around this site, these two reviews get more traffic than almost anything else. So here they are again, with added Depeche Mode...
The second of director Joseph Losey's collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter opens with an unseen car crash, and lives skidding out of control is the subject of this quiet but unsparingly bitter film about personal, professional and mid-life crises hitting the intelligentsia where it hurts: in the head.
Accident is a film about a subject close to its makers' hearts: the pathological unhappiness of the English, and though the story is the stuff of maudlin melodrama, Losey, Pinter and Dirk Bogarde summon up a grimly authentic analysis of what Bogarde himself described as "the squalor of the male menopause".
Bogarde stars as Stephen, a 40-year-old Oxford philosophy lecturer, functionally drunk as often as possible and silently resentful of his colleague Charley (Stanley Baker), whose star is rising as a TV pundit. Among Stephen's students is the casually charming young aristocrat William (Michael York) who has his eye on another of Stephen's charges, Austrian princess Anna (Jacqueline Sassard).
Motivated by a dangerous mixture of admiration and envy, Stephen facilitates a meeting between William and Anna. But Stephen's gently magnanimous demeanour conceals a rising tide of anxiety, self-centredness and sexual desperation. Over the course of one drink-drenched summer afternoon in the rolling English countryside, Stephen and Charley's unspoken impulses - charged up by the seductive presence of Anna - break the veneer of English civility. It's a process that gives rise to adultery, death and then rape.
Bogarde, whose transformation from chirpy matinee idol to chippy arthouse star was almost complete by 1967, gives one of his most profoundly-felt performances. And that isn't just how it looks on screen. Bogarde subsequently described how difficult he found it to leave the character behind. By the time Accident arrives at its grim climax Stephen has been overtaken by all those long-suppressed and shameful instincts. Principle among the film's subjects is the pain of unrealised ambition and the sense that English propriety is a hair's breadth from emotional paralysis.
Though Harold Pinter wrote Accident's screenplay, the original novel was by Nicholas Moseley, son of the British fascist leader Oswald Moseley. The script comes loaded with wry little snipes at classism and snobbery. ("He writes novels, appears on the television," is Stephen's sarcastic assessment of Charley. "A very versatile man.") Pinter's own purposefully absurd cameo as a TV producer is an example of the playwright at his most Pinter-esque, but evident elsewhere is an understated European sensibility, suggestive of Antonioni's woozy excursions into existential angst. A sequence in which Stephen revisits - or perhaps just re-imagines - an adulterous affair with an old flame in London is exaggeratedly vivid and yet strangely blank, as were Antonioni's 1960s films about the alienated bourgeoisie as they drifted between nowhere and nothing.
Losey himself was a director who always understood the demands of the melodrama - rising emotion, sinking morals - but Accident avoids the stereotypes associated with a certain strain of shrill domestic storytelling. In the same year that The Beatles were insisting all you needed was love, Losey's film quietly notes that it's just as likely to tear you apart. Taut, dark, brilliantly acted - this autopsy on the emotional lives of the English intelligentsia is among Bogarde and Losey's greatest achievements.
Playboy James Fox employs Dirk Bogarde as his valet but gradually master and servant's roles are reversed. Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter's unsettling depiction of psychological class war in 1960s London.
The first of three collaborations between director Joseph Losey and writer Harold Pinter, The Servant shares with Accident and The Go-Between an extraordinarily bitter conception of Englishness. A deeply creepy psychodrama about power and propriety with a quasi-revolutionary subtext, it finds Bogarde, who by 1963 had sloughed off the heartthrob image and was wandering into much darker territory, oozing a queasy strain of mouldering, manipulative nastiness.
Back from Africa, upper class playboy Tony (Fox) is setting up home in Chelsea and hires Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) as his valet. But Tony's brittle fiancée Susan (Craig) takes against Barrett, and her dislike swells into an all encompassing hatred. Barrett arranges for the woman he claims is his sister (Miles) to be installed as housekeeper, and her seduction of Tony marks a shift in the balance of power between master and servant.
The social allegory is clear but the film's as much concerned with personal power as class conflict. When the increasingly boozy Tony tries to stop drinking, Barrett persuades him back onto the bottle with a gentle, "See, I can still find things to please you." Executed with great smoothness, the change in their positions begins with the odd gesture and culminates with Tony following his servant out of the room like a dog.
Bogarde's Barrett - cynical and insidious as he worms his way into his master's affections - invests the valet with the odd camp flourish and though it's never made explicit there is an undeniable homoerotic subtext to his nannying of the angel-faced Fox.
As the girlish maid Miles exhibits a quite filthy sex appeal and Craig, who'd go on to make her name playing quietly sad middle-Englanders, brings a tightly wound tension to the part of Susan, finally admitting that it's power above all else that turns her on. For Fox himself it's tempting to see this as an early rehearsal for the film where he lost his identity entirely: Performance.
Decades on from its original release this uneasy, unwholesome and faintly kinky vision of post-war English life has lost none of its startling, discomforting strangeness.
Entr'acte: we boldly propose this sequence from Holy Motors as the most awesome accordion action available to anyone, anywhere, basically. After that, RL Burnside's original version of Let My Baby Ride. As above, so bellows.
The great man of American letters Gore Vidal has left us, aged 86. I'm not entirely qualified to catalogue his vast achievements, so I won't. He is, however, credited with the line 'no good deed goes unpunished' - an observation of such beautiful, bitter irony that it ought to be carved into some sort of civic monument.
What we do have is a piece is I wrote a while back on the notorious film adaptation of his novel Myra Breckinridge. Vidal disliked the movie so much that he sought to have his name removed. It is, I imagine, among the very last things he'd want - or indeed ought - to be remembered for. In it, Raquel Welch stars as a transsexual who hits Hollywood and sets about ushering in a new age of human sexuality. John Huston and Mae West also crop up. It is insane. I kinda like it...
They said Gore Vidal's novel was unfilmable, and they were right. On Myra Breckinridge's release in 1970 critics went to extraordinary lengths to damn what director Michael Sarne has described - with a degree of understatement wholly absent from the film - as a "comic look at a man who would like to be a woman".
Four decades on and this loopy, lurid and wildly excessive Hollywood/gender war satire remains a fascinating and at times just plain bewildering film. It's overloaded with ideas, not all of them good ones, stitched together with a mix of late-1960s radicalism and flailing camp. Imagine Russ Meyer meeting John Waters in a Californian gay bar while Andrea Dworkin pokes them with sticks.
The film opens with Myron (Reed, then a TV pundit and film critic) undergoing a sex change by castration in front of an appreciative audience. As Myra (Welch), (s)he heads for Hollywood to set about erasing the "last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in order to realign the sexes, while decreasing the population, thus increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for the next stage". Myra, insisting she's Myron's widow, secures a position teaching "empathy and posture" at the highly suspect acting school run by her cheerfully chauvinist Uncle Buck (Hollywood veteran Huston, dripping sleaze) and sets about "the destruction of the American male in all its particulars."
That's all in the first 10 minutes. Thereafter, plotting is messily episodic as Myra, mysteriously accompanied by Myron, sets herself up as a talent agent-cum-agent provocateur and trips through encounters with dippy starlet Mary Ann (Fawcett) and rival agent Leticia Van Allen (West, shamelessly hamming it up as a sexually rapacious septuagenarian. At one point she even performs a little rap.)
The dialogue is a curious mix of exaggerated hipster-speak and radical psychobabble. ("In every American there is a strangler longing to break a neck during orgasm.") In structure and appearance it has the vivid tone of a Technicolor hallucination, Sarne slipping in clips and samples from elsewhere if he feels they make a point. All of which pales into insignificance when set against the film's breathless climax, where Myra dons a Stetson and strap-on for the anal rape of macho leading man Rusty (Herren). This sequence is intercut with footage of a battering ram, a roller coaster and a glider...
It was Sarne's belief that Gore Vidal's original novel and subsequent attempts at a screenplay - eventually ditched in favour of a script by Sarne and producer David Giler - were driven by a genuine, gender-politics agenda. That may be so, but here the satire is so heavy-handed, self-conscious and just plain daft that it swiftly becomes cartoonish. Likewise Sarne's desire to shock, which now looks cheeringly innocent in its conviction that Welch as a transgressive transsexual was really sticking it to straight America.
A troubled production (West and Welch didn't get on) was followed by an equally unhappy public and critical response. Vidal disowned the result. Welch wasn't particularly proud of it either, though the performance is actually one of her best. Sarne's career as a director never recovered and he returned to writing, acting, and the theatre, popping his head over the parapet in 1995 to direct Glastonbury The Movie. Rex Reed never acted again. Neither did Roger Herren. Any film that so comprehensively banjaxed the careers of so many involved deserves to be remembered, and though Myra Breckinridge is deeply confused, profoundly misguided and, by any normal criteria, only barely comprehensible, this Citizen Kane of chaotic trash is never dull.
So long Chris Marker, director of La Jetee (from whence came Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, but you probably knew that already) and chronicler of haunted memories for five decades. Marker has died aged 91 on the same date as his birth - a symmetry he'd probably have appreciated. Sans Soleil, his magnificent journey - inwards, outwards and through a strangely liminal Japan - is available in its entirety here...
We relax our usual no-brands-on-this-website policy for the sake of Jim Marshall, who died today. Made from italics in Milton Keynes...
Thereafter, our favourite director of Hungarian slow-core remade in the image of Black Flag. If you, like us, need a summer wardrobe which makes self-conscious statements about your arcane cultural consumption, proceed here.
Filmmaker Francois Truffaut would have been eighty today and, unexpectedly, there's a Google Doodle to commemorate the fact. Given the example of Eric Rohmer and Ken Russell, were he around today he might still be active. Though you could probably say that about anyone. The 400 Blows from 1959 is still a kicking testament to angry energy, though I am fond of his chilly account of adultery La Peau Douce. Here's what I wrote about them, some time ago. And below, cinema's greatest scene featuring both a typewriter and a beach.
So long, then, Ken Russell, a great British director who never did anything by halves. Though he'll be remembered for Lisztomania, Tommy and The Devils, I am peculiarly fond of one of his final films - the absolutely bizarre Fall of the Louse of Usher, which stars our old friend, figuratively speaking, James Johnston of Gallon Drunk. Anyway, hauled out of the archive, this piece, published a couple of years back, on his (g)loopy psychedelic odyssey, Altered States. "There's a physiological pathway to our earlier consciousnesses, and I'm telling you it's in the goddamned limbic system!"
In his autobiography 'A British Picture', Ken Russell claimed to be the twenty-seventh director to have been offered Altered States. His predecessor Arthur Penn (Bonnie And Clyde) endured a strained relationship with writer Paddy Chayefsky which under Russell degenerated even further, Chayefsky eventually demanding his name be removed from the credits.
The director, ailing somewhat at the end of the 1970s, wanted not merely to hammer on the doors of perception, but kick open the gates to Hollywood. It never quite happened, yet his tripped-out treatment of this psychoactive psychodrama is as ambitious, vivid and endearingly indulgent as Tommy or Lisztomania, and more efficient than the overripe romances - Gothic and The Lair Of The White Worm - that followed in the late 1980s.
William Hurt makes his feature debut as Professor Eddie Jessup, a brilliant Harvard neuroscientist. His experiments with an isolation tank lead to an encounter with a tribe of Native American Indians whose potent hallucinogens cut Jessup free from the shackles of reality, then modify his own physiology. For reasons the script can never explain, Jessup starts slipping down the evolutionary ladder, first to a state of pre-human savagery and then into primordial gloop.
Russell has never been a director troubled by restraint and in his research for Altered States - inspired by the work of psychedelic pioneer Dr John Lilly - he partook of the odd mind-bending pharmaceutical himself. The film's hallucinatory interludes have the sensationalist symbolism common to most cinema drug sequences, but the sex, lizards, phallic mushrooms and crowds diving into volcanic larva are an example of Russell at his most flamboyantly apocalyptic, and were responsible for the film's enthusiastic reception by 1980s space cadets who, according to Russell, would go and hit the bong and blotter during the talky bits, then return for the protoplasm and explosions.
Hurt, Blair Brown and Bob Balaban are unstintingly earnest throughout, rightly reasoning this is the safest approach to lines like, "There's a physiological pathway to our earlier consciousnesses, and I'm telling you it's in the goddamned limbic system". Chayefsky, who wrote Sydney Lumet's brilliantly cynical media satire Network, was adamant that his script be adhered to word for word. Russell may merely have been attempting to get one over the writer by reducing several key exchanges to baffling bluff during which everyone talks at once, but the approach serves as sarcastic comment on intellectual posturing while suggesting reality is at once subjective and faintly ridiculous.
Like much of Russell's work, Altered States is ostentatious and pretentious yet genuinely engaged with ideas and style. A disappointing drift towards horror convention renders the finale rather less meaningful than it thinks it is, but with Russell stirring up the potion behind the camera, it remains one helluva trip.