Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 5. 1969.
Films — True Foes and Losey Dotes
True Foes and Losey Dotes
A High case of colourful ineptitude and mismanagement was evident at this year's Auckland Festival film-wise. Everything was of such a pre-conceived stardard of lowness that it is a wonder whether anyone really cares any more. Whether it is such an important cultural event that such a film as Lester's How I Won The War is finally launched after two years In the vaults and has an Auckland reviewer one week publicly claiming he voted against its being in the festival and calling it in "plain bad taste dependent on one's age," then a few weeks later glowingly be stowing something more than a personal admiration for Petulia (made a year later).
The editor of the Auckland Film Society writes in a blurb, "A director who uses a flashy technique that will endear him to university-level audiences who no doubt will categorise HIWTW as a protest film. After two viewings . . . it left a dirty taste in the mouth . . . it's sick".(sic)
Open criticism with such malicious strength as this for over a two-year-old film of no mean significance is rather similar to these hilarious correspondents writing about orgies, censorship and primeval urg-ings suddenly exposed in the Dominion.
Surely these people belong to the mass array of plethorically starved (chromo-wise) fools who vie for such disgusting commer-cial slop as 30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia, Tunnel to the Sun and The Young World. Even The Swimmer was lifted from its deep week sleep-ins at southern cinemas to the rank of a select festival offering!
Normal procedure for Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet (the bi-est Shakesbard ever) would have been to run it simultaneously in every Auckland cinema so that the city became inundated with its precious charm to render the rest of the festival unconscious.
Yisconti's The Stranger (from Camus with Mastroianni and Anna Karina) proved to be the worst film he has ever made but with enough visionary splendour to blind a mule let alone Camus (the festival's resistance moins de piece or something).
Oedipus The King, Phillip Saville's ap-parently sombre reconstruction of the Sophoclean tragedy was appreciated mainly because of Orson Welles, Lilli Palmer and Walter Lassally, photographer.
Meanwhile George Dunning's surrealistic cartoon about the Beatles' Yellow Submarine was given two Sunday screenings with enough queens to have it shown up and down queue street. How ridiculous.
Betwixt this depressing state of rotten (or was it clever?) distribution came the enlightening news that in September Auckland "will have its first venture into the International Film Festival field with a feast of first release International Cinema sponsored by the Auckland Festival Society and the Adelaide Film Festival."
We may even have an upper hand on the Aussie festivals with their multitude of new releases (always cut over there!) and sitting tight waiting for the sexes to cnange may prove the gateway to seeing such films as Corman's The Trip and The Wild Angels, Godard's One plus One and Weekend.
This is indeed something approaching greatness for New Zealand, something in fact that may turn people back to the cinema.
Another thing is that United Artists (a company with marvellous stuff lying around) kept it to themselves and did not present any of it (except Yellow Submarine and The Bride Wore Black) but some will definitely be seen at the Lido shortly. Among them are Louis Malle's Thief of Paris (le Voleur, with Belmondo) The Witches, a compilation film by Pasolini, Vis-conti and others (it stars Clint Eastwood in one episode), Bergman's Hour Of The Wolf, and hopefully, later in the year Skolimowski's The Adventures of Gerard and Fellini's Satyricon.
Out of the tangle of the festival shone two films. Joseph Losey's Boom! (not a festival release, it ran a sombre week) and Francois Truffaut's Le Mariee etait en Noir (The Bride Wore Black).
Boom! is a fantastic fable planted on the isle of Sardinia, off Sicily by Tennesse Williams (based on his play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore) and Joe Losey (The Servant, King And Country, Modesty Blaise and the yet unseen in Wellington Accident) which stars the richest woman in the world, Cissy Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor) the survivor of five industrial giants (!) and who escorted six husbands "to the threshold, and came back alone."
She lives in a concreted palazzo, on the-top of a cliff, a sort of ferro-palace, opulen-tically unbelievable (thank you Richard MacDonald as always) in a butchy Grimm sort of way. She is dying "of life" and gives, with gutsy abandonment, autobiographical dictation about wombs, and meanings and things to a young widow (newcomer Joanna Shimkus is excellent).
On the island is a revolting clucking dwarf (Michael Dunne) and a host of snarling dogs, monkeys and a parrot that seems to comment on more than action more than once. To keep strangers away from her world she erects signs, "in three languages . . . and Arabic," but one day comes a poet, an angel of death (Richard Burton) to sanctify her, and flit around in a Japanese samurai costume and sword ("stop waving that thing around!"). He releases her through poetry into seductive oblivion but to no avail.
Comes the Maughamish Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri, looking like a neurotic peahen and tells "dear Cissy" to calm down in assorted syballintic syllables in an incredible sequence from the peachy twilights into the blackened fog of night on the terrace; she in full kabuki costume, at a sumptuous banquet.
She is prone to fits of outrageous illogicallity, has nocturnal blood transfusions followed by a carnal rapaciousness for nearly everything in site, Lady Macbethian wailing soliloquies in an over-painted face roaming through the gigantic Chagall-Bosched up rooms, coughing into handkerchiefs bloodily and leaving trails of what she calls, "my paper roses".
The quiet ending is a mixture of calm acceptance, presumably in a haemorrhage for Cissy as the waves in a closing shroud descend through the miracle of a dissolve onto her bed, and softly boom away with Johnny Dankworth's sombre brass beating ad aeternam.
Losey has coaxed this quite ridiculously sounding tale with some of the finest camerawork and colour I have ev seen emerge from a British studio (by Douglas Slocombe). Colour used to heighten the sensitivity of each gorgeously neurotic scene on the white terraces, the snarling shades of the sea's waves, the bloody skies, the musky depths of endless palatial rooms. Some scenes in fact reminded me of the fireplace in Citizen Kane, only in a gloomy golden up-to-date version, and Roeg's calculated timbres in Masque Of The Red Death.
It is incredibly funny, and it is obvious that Williams and Losey have had bat to bat all the way through. Who else could show Miss Taylor as Katherine bloody Hepburn? She gives the most appalling brilliant performance of her career. Burton speaks beautifully in empty rooms, and recites Kubla Khan as if he meant it.
But it is Noel Coward who towers, and I mean that, above all. He plods around, makes the most atrociously embarrassing bird noises, and laps up every word with a hungry relish (verbal). It is a pleasure to hear everyone in the film speak so clearly and beautifully.
A rather disturbing thing is the A certificate this film has. Certain actions and dialogue would surely warrant a restricted certificate. The film has no pretensions about depravity and eroticism in all respects. The same could also be applied to Reflections In A Golden Eye, and Lady In Cement. It's a bit tough on those kids! If Universal has enough courage (it has been a disaster both for money and I can believe audience reaction) Boom! and Losey's latest, Secret Ceremony (with Miss Taylor. Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum, R18!), should be here in the next few years or so.
Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (United Artists) is simply the worst film he has made. I was quite horrified to find it was even on the surface more Dinky toy-like than Fahrenheit 451,
But this is not a preventative from enjoying it, for it is quite joyous and as usual Truffaut's joy in occasionally our own too. I am not concerned now with this wonderful directors approach and affiliation with Hitchcock, nor would it be known that this film is in any way representative of the old man's style, or meant in any part to be.
It was adapted from William Irish's novel, who also wrote the short story on which Hitchcock's Torn Curtain was based. It is terribly mellow-dram, appallingly dubbed (rub-a-dub more likely) beautifully acted by lots of marvellous French actors (whom we see too little of) marvellous jokes that bare repeating and of course Raoul Coutard's impeccable camera.
Truffaut has been using Britain's Bernard Herrmann lately, and his score is hilariously disorientated, more so than in the case of Fahrenheit where it heightened each scene. In fact Delerue wrote better Hitchock-type music for La Peau Douce that John Addison did for Torn Curtain, let alone Herrmann's Wagnerian scores for Welles which were better than the pallid slop for Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, shooting concerto!
In The Bride there are little parodies from his earlier films for in his case they seem to work. People's names, certain tiltzooms (a wonderful trait used consistently in Jules et Jim and Shoot The Pianist) and from the finale of Le Peau Douce, his finest film yet, which I thought had more suspence than this. Brilliant Jeanne Moreau plays Dianne the Huntress who on a revenge binge kills six men whom she thought had killed her husband as they emerged from the church on their wedding day. Therefore, the film is slightly fragmentary (with very conventional flash-backs for Truffaut!) thus eliminating any suspense that may have eventuated. The murders are very trite in execution, and the coup d'etat is rather hard to accept, even though the scene is held and the last victim hilariously dies.
I loved the section in the concert hall, where nippy cutting seemed to be on the suspenseful uptake. Four identities; Moreau, her victim, a young cellist and pianist rapturously involved in a Beethoven sonata. But instead of any pushing over balconies (as in Shoot The Pianist) or stabbings, or poisoned eclairs, etc., the musicians finish and Doris Day leaves grinning.
Truffaut is certainly not the man who never was, though Hitchcock, seems to be, is. But there is a lovely bit of hammy train-moving matte work that does Him justice. And a section at the beginning of the film that scrutinises all details and mannerisms as Moreau gets to a train, walks out the other side, across the tracks and down into the underground, seems to come from Mamie. There is a faintly insane obsession she has with a baroque mandoline concerto which she plays every time her victim is cornered, but this is only one thing that eludes me in its freshly sane air
Charles Denner (as the wonderful artist Fergus), Claude Rich, Michel Bouquet and Michel Lonsdale are among her victims, and Jean-Claude Brialy is the suspect. Both The Bride Wore Black and How I Won The War are due at the Regent in the near future.
* * *
Next Wednesday night in E006 the Film Society will show the Michael Cacoyannis film made (when the film company wasn't looking) from the profits of Zorba The Greek: his nuclear warfare spoof The Day The Fish Came Out. Noted for its colourful costumes, music by Theodorakis and camera by Walter Lassally, it features Sam Wanamaker, Tom Courtenay, Colin Blakely, Candice Bergen and Ian Ogilvie.