Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 22. September 17, 1968
Films — All fizz and no fuzz
All fizz and no fuzz
Film audiences in this country are noted for their slavish devotion to formula-concoctions of saccharine schmaltz. Occasionally, however, the inevitable element of unpredictability rears, and we receive some pleasant, but more often, unpleasant surprises. After many years of a steady flow of European films, both dubbed and subtided. New Zealanders have been forced to realise this significant part of the world's film output. But only a small handful have ever been "successes" in that they reached a wider audience than customary. Only two or three have become perennials, none of them very good. Hot on the heels of the all-time record holder, Dear John, comes the Danish Seventeen. I would not presume to understand the secret appeal that these films hold which makes them so much more popular. And remember it is the one or two popular ones that enable the others to be seen,
Both Dear John and Seventeen are about sex. One tended toward sentimentality—a housewives' art film— the other as unsubtle as it is unpretentious. As the title suggests, Seventeen is a stylised version of the jump from erotic picture books to the Real Thing. Jacob (an uncomfortable Ole Soltoft) seizes upon the opportunity given him by his uncle to holiday in a provincial town. Uncle's attraction for Jacob is his pretty daughter Vibeke (the beautiful Ghita Norby). The opening scenes are extremely slow, and it takes some time before Jacob comes across. In the meantime he is attempting to prevent himself from coming … Time after time we are presented with pictures and statues supposed to display Jacob's overwhelming sexual frustration and his virginal handicap, The film is played for comedy alone, and Jacob's imagined unworthiness hints at little more than an embarrassing prurience. Laughs for some perhaps, but more likely it tends to invoke unhealthy feelings of superiority in the male viewer. As for female reactions I hesitate to saw It was directed (and very badly) by a woman, Annelise Meimeche.
The transition from Jacob's long awaited deflowering— the girl wasn't very impressed—to the assertion of his prowess is overnight. He has soon enjoyed most of the assorted females (none very glamorous) that are left. Vibeke, you see, had to go back to school soon after The Night. Jacob can now forget his experiences with bedwetting, an anxious homosexual and his unfulfilled fantasies. At the end of the holiday he receives a bonus. Surprise, surprise, the girl in the compartment in the train when he came out is there again on the way back. This time she is only too willing and he capable.
All this may suggest an ultimate in film pornography— presented harmlessly of course—but beneath the superficial sheen there is nothing. Seventeen will make a lot of money, and will I hope make people appreciate more of those films which we see so little of … Cul de Sac and so on. As cinema eroticism it is tame. Scenes in movies from Cool Hand Luke, Tony Rome through to Male Companion and Carry on Cowboy (none with restricted certificates) have more entendres. No matter, Seventeen will just have to stick up for itself and we hope of more to come.
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The shorthand of film listing has become easier with the resurgence of directorial dominance. No longer in the blockbuster epics do we find the director's name in small type at the bottom of the posters. Of John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick, Tony Richardson et alia we can no longer plead ignorance. Star! is "A Robert Wise Film". We don't begrudge Mr Wise this honour, although nobody will believe for a minute that all is due to Mr Wise. Neither can we blame him for everything. Wise, after all, has had a distinguished career. How many can match his credit for the editing of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons; films like The Set-up, Somebody Up There Likes Me, I Want to Live and The Haunting; and finally his consistent venture into the 70 mm ratio with West Side Story, The Sound of Music and The Sand Pebbles. Only in the latter film did Wise recapture the intensity and control of his earlier films.
In Star!, with Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence, we have another attempt at the commercial bonanza. One is tempted to assess such films purely on this level; leave it to the public and the publicists. The critic, supposedly, has better things to do than whimper and plead for better things. Gertrude Lawrence is known chiefly for her lack of singing abilitv and the flamboyance of her private and public lives. While Julie Andrews does resemble Gertrude Lawrence in pose, her mannerisms are decidely misplaced. Moreover the Andrews voice has aspirations towards musieality. The songs are present in great array: from "Burlington Bertie" to "Someday I'll Fnd You" many may wallow in a nouveau nostalgia. The Gershwin tunes are inadequate from Miss Andrews; only a few demonstrate the excitement that matinees experienced from the singing nun.
The discovery of the film is Daniel Massey as Noel Coward, Gertie's most devoted colleague. The film is worthwhile solely for this pleasure. The Coward humour (and some of his songs) is given generous room; we are even treated to an extract from Private Lives. The other actors are firmly in the background lending a deathlv reality to the thing. I suspect that musical biographies will always fail, not because we find credibility hard, but because most just aren't exciting enough.
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Our friend the audience has done a real hatchet job t one of the year's most exciting films, 2001: A Space Odyssey. That New Zealanders couldn't stomach it must come as a major shock to MCM. Students undoubtedly provided the backbone of support: most not just once but several times. At a time of high attendances—the reason for so few new releases—the 2001 disaster cannot be easily explained away. No wonder distributors' and exhibitors' off-hand treatment; no wonder Wellington still awaits a good twenty or so films that have been all around the country for months; no wonder the standard of film criticism is so bad.
I was going to say a little about Bandolero!, but I fear it is only an excuse for another diatribe about the chief fault in American films today: gutless scripts. There are many excellent orgininal scripts that finally reach the screen, but most are frustrated by the need for "safe properties"—a term referring to the adage that every bestseller must be filmed. The rare combination of both, as in Richard Brooks's film of Capote's In Cold Blood, comes only from superior talent combining with equal talent. In most cases it is either film-making talent grappling with inadequate material, or good writing mangled by inferior film-making. The mainstream American cinema has no excuses for technical incompetence; equally it should be willing to face the challenge of stronger, more uncompromising content. Only when the writer can improve his lot, and the opportunity for original material is freely available, will the Francis Ford Coppolas no longer be noble exceptions. The spectre of Codard haunts Hollywood. Let it not be put at rest too soon.