I watched this delightful little film yesterday evening and enjoyed it so much that I stopped knitting in order to concentrate and try not to look at the subtitles. Michel is a prosperous dentist. Out shopping one pleasant Saturday he finds a rare jazz record he’s been looking for forever and can’t wait to get back to his lovely apartment to play it. Everything conspires against him. His neurotic wife wants to confess something. His son imports a large family of ‘illegals’ into the attic. His guilt-ridden ex-mistress keeps phoning, as does his mother. The cleaner makes a racket. The Polish (only he’s not) builder crashes about then causes a flood which brings a neighbour round to complain. And so on. This clip gives some idea of the farcical chaos which ensues.

Handled differently, this could have been a dark tale about betrayal, identity and middle aged angst but here all is light, sparkling froth. I loved it and have rather fallen for Christian Clavier.
Just spotted this on the BBC news site, while I was looking for the cricket. I’ve written previously about Margaret Barton (Mrs James) here and about Shillingstone here.
The performance seems an event not to miss!

Photo BBC. Edward Fox unrecognisable as the Fool. He was also in the 1983 film .

I still have strong memories of the original film of The Dresser, which starred Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, so my expectations of this production were high.

Ronald Harwood’s play is about a touring theatre company run by ‘Sir’ putting on King Lear in wartime, while air raid sirens go off. ‘Sir’, an ageing ham, seems unfit for the performance and is cajoled and bullied onto the stage by his long-time dresser, Norman. So there’s a play within a play, Lear inside The Dresser. The BBC production (by Richard Eyre) was lovely to look at: beautiful photography, perfect costumes and atmosphere. It was very stagey: a play filmed for television rather than a television play.

I have to say that Ian McKellen stole the show with his nervy, fidgety, vulnerable yet at times cruel performance as Norman. Anthony Hopkins somehow failed to shine as ‘Sir’. I did find myself in tears at the end, but that was due to Lear. Top quality TV and what we pay the licence fee for.
I’m rather looking forward to seeing this film, although some people think it will be boring because ‘it’s about gardening’. The best thing about it at the moment is that Alan Rickman is all over the place promoting it, so you get to hear his voice. I could listen to him reading the telephone directory, as they say. I don’t know how it’s done. In the last Harry Potter film, nice characters are being killed off left, right and centre and I sit quite unmoved. Then Alan Rickman says one word, ‘Always’ and I start crying.

Dark and wet this morning but there were still plenty of sellers. I bought rather a lot. For example

ha ha! )

You might think that this year is all about the First World War, but yesterday evening BBC 4 (of course) put on a compelling little programme about the Allied POWs who built the Burma railway and their captors. There are still veterans, over ninety years old. One is 100 and still working. What made this programme different was that Japanese veterans were interviewed as well. From the British we heard a lot about forgiving ‘the Japs’, not having hard feelings, getting on with their lives etc. Some had written books, some had never spoken about their experiences until this little film was made. The Japanese spoke of ‘obeying orders’ and ‘being brainwashed’. They tended to deny that they themselves had seen ill treatment yet said that today they felt ‘sorry’ for the sufferings of the POWs. Some seemed sorrier than others. As really old men, they looked back at the ‘horror of war’ and spoke of the need for ‘a peaceful world’. Interestingly, it was one of the Japanese veterans who mentioned the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, if only to say that he personally had never seen some of the horrors portrayed in it.

When I was a child, it must have been 1957, my parents went to see the film. Next day they reported that at the end, people in the cinema stood up and clapped. I don’t know why I remembered this, but later I realised that the audience weren’t just clapping because it was a good film. It’s hard for people my age to understand what a very recent memory the war was for our parents’ generation. I see the BBC programme is getting another showing and is available on the iPlayer. The most moving part of it for me was right at the end: the whistling theme from the film played over still photographs of the veterans, with subtitles about how they live now.
Eheu, another icon of my youth is gone.
I’m amazed he lived so long. When I was at school I went to see every single film he was in. As I wrote on here once, I would pay just to sit and look at him, even when he was old. And he loved cricket, too! I can’t find the very picture I used to have on my bedroom wall, but this will do.

Steve McQueen and The Beatles made an unlikely connection between two BBC4 programmes I’ve watched this week: Knitting’s Golden Age and Neil Brand’s series Sound of Cinema.

I was disappointed by the knitting programme. The films were good, especially the old black and white shots of women knitting Fair Isle patterns at astonishing speed while herding sheep at the same time. It was the voice over which was the problem; I felt it had a slightly mocking tone throughout which was at odds with the seriousness of the knitters. As for the old patterns, I seem to have most of them! The Beatles appeared because they popularized black polo neck (roll neck, according to the prog.) sweaters which everyone then wanted.


Polo necks were cool, as shown by the fact that cool people wore them, like Steve McQueen in Bullit.


I confess I still think black polo necks are pretty cool, also Cuban heels. Blue, not so much. I couldn’t agree with the programme makers that knitwear went out completely in the 1980s and 90s.


This oversized sweater by Nicole Farhi is from that era, as is this BikBok cardigan.


The Beatles turned up again in Sound of Cinema, illustrating the innovative use of pop music in films; in their case, using their own songs in A Hard Day’s Night (still one of my favourite films) instead of employing a composer. We also had a brief glimpse of Adam Faith in Beat Girl, Yay! I’ve yet to see that film. Then there was Steve McQueen, in his blue polo neck, epitomizing cool to the soundtrack of Bullit. I’m enjoying this film series very much but there should have been a health warning before yesterday’s episode. Viewers of New Tricks this week were warned that it contained ‘upsetting’ scenes. What? It was nothing at all, you see worse things on the news every day of the week. No warning, though, that Sound of Cinema would include scenes from films by Quentin Tarentino. I had to look away; I could never watch anything of his.

Last week, LoveFilm sent me Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment in time for Saturday evening viewing. I last saw it when it came out and was surprised to find how well I remembered whole scenes after hem hem years. Morgan, played by David Warner, is a working class artist married to, but soon to be divorced from, rich Leonie, (Vanessa Redgrave, so beautiful). His behaviour is erratic, to say the least. He refuses to accept that his wife has had enough of him and takes refuge in bizarre fantasies, mostly involving animals. (We’d see this again ten years later in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.)

It’s rather a subversive film in that at first the viewer is not sure whether or not Morgan is really mad. You tend to sympathise with him because his in-laws and Leonie’s new fiancé, Charles, are caricatures of upper class types of the time. Morgan’s dotty communist mother, (Irene Handl), calls him a class traitor. Marx is another of Morgan’s obsessions. First time around, I thought Morgan really cute and his escapades quite funny. Now, he seems like a dangerous stalker; laying traps for Leonie and Charles (Robert Stephens) and trying to blow up his mother-in-law. You constantly ask yourself why Leonie doesn’t change the locks/move house/get a court injunction (she does try this), to escape Morgan’s unwanted attentions? Uncomfortably, although determined to marry Charles and lead a normal life, she still finds Morgan’s behaviour a turn-on. Spoiled bitch. No wonder the poor chap's confused, and in the end he does go right over the edge.

I’d have to say it’s a good film, if only because I could remember it so well. It does show the best and worst of sixties films. Good soundtrack, very evocative of the period, a lot of Keystone Cops-type dashing about (think A Hard Day’s Night or The Knack), rather too much wackiness. When I was a theatre-mad schoolgirl, David Warner was right up there with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay for us gels, and if you watch the film, you’ll see why. He’s still acting but I’d say he's less famous than the other two? Some young thing will have to tell me.
film trailer )
I was up at six this morning so I’ve already heard a lot of radio. On every news bulletin it’s been announced that ‘Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister’ has blah blah. What a strange emphasis. It suggests that Northern Ireland has a second, third, possibly even a fourth Minister.

GMS was out to get me this morning. Aled Jones and Canon Ann Easter (the unlikely Chaplain to the Queen) were discussing the sad death of a friend and said that only Bob Dylan would do to remember her by. So they played Forever Young, causing crack-up number one. After a little more chat came Adele’s version of Make You Feel My Love. I nearly emailed in begging them to stop.

Nothing on television yesterday evening so I knitted socks to Ill Met by Moonlight, my latest from LoveFilm. Even though it’s a Powell and Pressburger film starring Dirk Bogarde, I didn’t like it. The film is based on the true story (look it up yourselves) of a SOE plot to capture a German general in Crete and ‘make the Germans look fools.’ This is typical of the kind of brave but crackpot scheme which lost lives while doing nothing at all to end the war. Film makers really should have known that the war was not won by suave British officers cocking an eyebrow and spouting poetry. And Dirk Bogarde looked too damned pleased with himself throughout.

photo from IMDb

When I was about twelve I had a photo of Dirk Bogarde on my bedroom wall. Little did I know.

The other evening I watched Sir John Mills’ Moving Memories
and I learned a lot. For all the films I’ve watched and admired John Mills in, I had no idea that he started out as a song and dance man and also excelled at all sports. No doubt that explains how he was still so spry at ninety. Oh, and he played the piano, too. Wearing a bright yellow v-necked pullover, looking very dapper with his white hair and neat beard, Sir John spoke to camera about his life and career, with many anecdotes about films and film actors. What made this extra interesting was that he took a lot of film himself so we saw not only his family but the stars relaxing and clowning for his camera. That’s where the glamour comes in. Not a word you’d usually associate with John Mills but seeing this brought home just how glamorous a film star’s life was in the 1950s and 60s. Imagine you were one of his children (I’ll be Hayley, please) and the weekend guests included Laurence Olivier, David Niven or Rex Harrison. You’d fly in luxury to exotic places like Tahiti. You’d have wonderful boating holidays. You’d live in beautiful houses. Yet your parents would try to make your life as normal as possible. It looks now like a dream world and John Mills hadn’t a bad word to say about anybody.

John Mills made his first film in 1932 and his last appearance in 2001. Did you know he had an unattributed part in The Parent Trap, playing a golf caddy? I noticed it in the lengthy filmography. I always associate him with This Happy Breed, Ice Cold in Alex and so on. Richard Attenborough said that his best role was in Hobson’s Choice, which I’ve never seen. So off I go to request it from LoveFilm.

As Craig said on Saturday’s Strictly, ‘It’s getting boring. Everyone’s good.’ I certainly had trouble deciding who did the best dance but it was time for Robbie Savage to go. I enjoyed Movie Night, in spite of Brucie’s shocking fluffs. It was much better than the Wembley show, which the BBC is still crying up as the greatest ever while everyone else thinks it was the worst of the series.

My main gripe with the current show is the ridiculous and time wasting ‘here they are in rehearsal’, which then shows the couples in a silly film. Yawn, yawn: get on with it! The Sunday results show gets sillier every week with everyone referring to ‘last night’ when we all know it’s filmed on Saturday. Like Pasha would put on that make up twice or that we’d see Erin sitting in a gorgeous frock for the hell of it, rather than that later she’ll be doing a show dance with Anton. Then there’s the obligatory entertainment. Who is Alfie Boe and since when has he been ‘one of the world’s great tenors?’ I thought the Bond medley was ghastly.

It’s still a very hard one to call. Looks like a final between Harry and Chelsee but Holly’s suddenly decided she could be there. Lurved her dance with Artem.

LoveFilm and Bright Star )


Oct. 25th, 2011 11:07 am

This film sets out to show that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. Oh yawn. Does it matter? To the tourist industry of Stratford on Avon, rather a lot, but to the rest of us? I think it does. What always strikes me about these crackpot theories is their snobbery. How likely is it, sniff the misguided critics, that a common boy from Stratford, with no more education than the local grammar school could provide, was able to write works of genius? The same argument could apply to Keats, or Dickens or Thomas Hardy but their lives are well documented and no one suggests that the poetry of the cockney Keats was actually written by Lord Byron. Who knows where genius will appear? Just look at the life of Michael Faraday.
This was supposed to be Monday's post! LJ is still rather broken.

Over the weekend I watched Far from the Madding Crowd in two instalments. When I first saw the film I’d never even visited Dorset, let alone had any idea that one day I would live here. It was longer and slower than I remembered but still very good. There’s beautiful scenery (it was shot in Wiltshire and Dorset), a lovely pastoral score by Richard Rodney Bennett and clever use of folk songs throughout to highlight the story. There’s a strong feeling of the isolation of rural communities (Bathsheba’s aunt’s house in the middle of nowhere), the rhythm of the seasons and celebrations of the high points of the farming year. No Lark Rise-style rose-tinted spectacles here but plenty of mud, rain, fog and a reminder that loss of stock or a rick fire could mean ruin.

What struck me was how closely it follows the book yet is very obviously a sixties film. Julie Christie’s hair and make-up mark her out immediately as a sixties’ beauty rather than a nineteenth century one. The shots, too, all those long views of the rolling landscape and especially the ones with figures outlined against the sky (the view of Terence Stamp at the top of a hill is particularly good) seem very sixties features, which you can see in Whistle Down the Wind, for instance. Julie Christie is not really convincing as the tough woman Bathsheba must have been to be ‘Queen of the Corn Market’ but it’s easy to see how Terence Stamp (cor!) got mastery of her and to believe in Peter Finch as her obsessive and half-crazed would-be lover. I found Alan Bates less good as Gabriel Oak than I remembered but I think the fault there lies with Hardy. When I read the book as a teenager Gabriel had all my sympathy; it’s only now that his devotion stretches my credulity.

I really enjoyed this re-visit and now want to read the book again.

Was spent watching the 1960 film What a Whopper. I didn’t want to use that as a title and mislead people who do strange searches. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] follygolightly for the heads-up that the film was available on DVD. I’d searched in vain in the past; when it arrived I found it was put out by a company specialising in B Movies. I last saw it when it came out, hopping off the bus on the way home from school to get an Adam fix.

No one would say it was a great film but the screenplay was by Terry Nation, the music by John Barry and it featured Sid James and many other comedy stalwarts. Adam was a pretty good actor for a singer (better, later, as David Essex’s manager in Stardust); even so, What a Whopper is usually omitted from accounts of his life.

My favourite scene in the film is a completely gratuitous one, put in to please the fans. Adam (Tony Blake) is with girl-interest Marie when a song called The Time Has Come starts up on the transistor radio. ‘He’s all I need,’ says Adam, looking disgusted, ‘…voice like that and he’s making a fortune.’ ‘I think he’s good!’ says Marie. Big joke because of course it’s Adam and he then harmonises with his own voice from the radio. It’s lovely! If you look at that scene, you get a good view of the fab sweater he wears throughout the film. For this and two other John Barry film songs by Adam see here. The wonders of the net. Unfortunately Beat Girl with Shirley Anne Field is still not available at a reasonable price.

That took care of most of Saturday evening and I still think he was utterly cute. Those cheekbones!

From Adam’s 1961 autobiography, Poor Me

The Eagle

Mar. 30th, 2011 10:33 am

Most people must know by now that Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth has been filmed as The Eagle. There’s a review here from The Guardian. With everyone talking about the book I decided to read it again.

I was probably about eleven when I first read it and Sutcliff became one of my favourite authors. It wasn’t just that the stories were interesting, but the connections between the books (a ring, a battered eagle, a flint) gave a real sense of history. I can truly say it’s thanks to Rosemary Sutcliff that I chose a history degree. The Eagle of the Ninth starts with young Marcus taking his first command, at the edge of the Roman Empire in misty Britain. His career with the Eagles is destroyed by wounds received in a battle against insurgents. At this stage the reader’s sympathies are all with Marcus and the Romans, which is clever. Marcus is more than a simple soldier though; he becomes interested in Britain and the ways of the native peoples. When he buys the slave Esca he puts to him the classic defence of colonialism, saying that surely the laws, roads and other advantages of the Roman way are beneficial to the subject peoples? Esca replies that they are not and cannot be their ways. The story becomes an exciting treasure hunt as Marcus and Esca seek the lost eagle of the Ninth Legion and I finished it almost at a sitting. At the end I decided I’m definitely Roman in spirit.

As you read your way through the other Roman novels you see the assimilation of Roman ways (in the south, at least) until Roman ways have become the old ways, to be defended against new invaders. It’s all very subtle and brilliant. If there is a weakness in the novels, for me it’s the dialogue. I get tired of ‘It is in my heart that’, ‘It is in my mind that’ but I’m just quibbling, as it’s very difficult to write so that characters from the past sound slightly different from us but not ridiculous. The Eagle of the Ninth was illustrated by C Walter Hodges. Much as I like his work, Charles Keeping was far the better choice for the other books; his stark, stylized pictures seem a perfect match for the stories.

The film is getting good reviews but looking at the trailer

I personally find it hard to get past the American accents and I've spotted one huge error. Looks exciting, though!

I’m moving straight on to The Silver Branch now and I see I’m in for a big Sutcliff re-read in addition to the books I already have on the go. My absolute favourite of all her books is not a Roman one at all but Simon, in which childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides in the English Civil War. It’s rare for both points of view to be shown in a work of historical fiction for children (see The Children of the New Forest, for example) and shows Sutcliff’s skill at writing fiction which was never didactic, or a mere excuse to teach history (a weakness in Cynthia Harnett’s novels, IMO). Challenging, perhaps, but so worth the effort.

These books are as suitable for adults as for good readers of eleven-plus, I’d say. The Book People have a good offer of the so-called Eagle Trilogy for £4.99. Cheaper than £200.00 or more for a first edition of TEOTN!
All this week Channel 4 has been showing an Audrey Hepburn film at lunchtime. I've recorded each one to watch in the evening when there's nothing on. Today's offering was Breakfast at Tiffany's except it wasn't. The film was pulled in order to show racing. I'm quite fond of the gees myself but why does sport take precedence over everything else on television, she ask rhetorically?

So far, I've liked Roman Holiday best, with a self-sacrificing Gregory Peck. As Princess Ann, with her hair in a coronet of plaits, Audrey looks just like Princess Anita from School Friend! Better than Sabrina, even though Humphrey Bogart was in it. Why did the studios pair her off with men who were so much older? In lovely Funny Face the male love interest is Fred Astaire, who must have been thirty years her senior. Kay Thompson acted Hepburn off the screen but what does it matter when you look the way she did?

John Barry has died. He was famous for writing a lot of James Bond film title tracks but you probably have no idea how many of his songs and tunes you know without realizing he was the composer; stuff which has been the background to our lives for many years. I’ve known his work since the 1960s because he wrote the arrangements for Adam Faith’s hits. Yes, I do still have the record in the picture.

Yesterday evening I watched an interesting programme on BBC 4: 1960 The Year of the North. It turned out to be mostly about films, in particular Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life, A Taste of Honey and A Kind of Loving. Rita Tushingham starred in A Taste of Honey. Have you seen her in The Knack, with Michael Crawford and Ray Brooks? You should.
I could have done without cultural historians telling me what to think but I liked the comment that when we see Julie Christie skipping along swinging her bag in Billy Liar, ‘it’s the start of the sixties’. The theme was of grittiness; of working class anti-heroes and northern accents becoming acceptable to people in the south for whom ‘The North’ was an exotic location. According to one commentator, these films paved the way for The Beatles to be seen as quirky and amusing rather than people to be laughed at because of their funny accents. Much as I love the films I couldn’t help thinking of Harry Enfield’s spoofs It’s Grim up North and Poppet on a Swing.

After that was an old Monitor programme, Shelagh Delaney’s Salford. This was a complete turn-off for me and I gave up on it. Hearing her praise for the vibrancy of Salford’s markets and the wonderful character of its people, as though it were the only place in the world, just made me think, ‘Never been to London, then, have you ducks?’ Of course, looking at the old film you realize that being a child in Croydon, as I was in 1960, was very different from growing up in Salford. I just get fed up with northerners with large chips on their shoulders. Goes to show how tribal we can all be deep down.
If you ever switch on the radio you can hardly have missed the trailers for The Richard Burton Legacy on Radio 2 with Michael Sheen. Oh, that voice. If you were capable of being the greatest actor of the age, would you choose Hollywood, money and booze instead? Just wondering.

Googling around I found the Alt Film Guide and Four Angry Young Men. They are: Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Richard Burton and Richard Harris. It’s not the actors who are angry but the characters they played in the black and white films of the period. I love those films and I’ve always admired Burton in Look Back in Anger.



January 2017



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