“It’s so nice to meet a man you feel you can trust..”
Ladies man Brad (Rock Hudson) and career woman Jan (Doris Day) fall out over his excessive use of their shared phone line. Brad’s best buddy Jonathon (Tony Randall) confides in him about his infatuation with the attractive interior decorator who redesigned his office and mentions how she is having trouble with a neighbour. Figuring out Jan is the lady in question Brad pretends to be a country boy from Texas and sets out to seduce her.
The Doris Day/Rock Hudson partnership is one of cinema’s most iconic pairings. Day was already famous for musicals like Calamity Jane (53, David Butler), but the success of Pillow Talk turned her into Hollywood’s biggest female star. Hudsonhad worked his way through the studio system but as a leading man he seemed bland and wooden in genre films. However he made a huge impression as a dramatic actor proving himself to be more than a 6’4 hunk in a series of films for director Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels). Dismissed somewhat patronisingly on their release as being merely ‘women’s pictures’ they are now recognised as classics and Hudson’s performances show a remarkable depth of feeling. New to comedy and wracked with doubts about his ability to be funny Hudson was lost until Pillow Talk director Gordon told him to play it as seriously as if he were acting in a tragedy. It probably helped having gifted comic actors like Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter around him though.
Producer Ross Hunter was an influential figure in the making of Pillow Talk. The findings of the recently published Kinsey reports (1948, 53) signalled the changing mores of American society. Hunter was fed up adhering to the Hay’s Code, a censorious set of rules which had been in place since 1930 and aimed to protect public morality. Pillow Talk may seem tame by modern standards but screenwriters Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin push the envelope with suggestive dialogue. Michael Gordon also uses a split screen technique (see picture left) so Jan and Brad appear to be in the same bathtub or bed which in 1959 would still contravene the Hay’s Code.
Pillow Talk was so popular Day/Hudson/Randall reteamed again for two other films – Lover Come Back (61, Delbert Mann) and Send Me No Flowers (64, Norman Jewison). What seemed progressive in 1959 dated in the 60’s as younger audiences turned away from the popular entertainment their parents liked. By the early 70’s all three leads were working primarily in television. Tony Randall had a huge hit with the long-running TV version of The Odd Couple. Hudsonstarred in McMillan and Wife and made his last onscreen appearance in 1985 as a regular on Dynasty, essentially a trashy but fun distillation of the kind of melodramas he made back in the 50’s. Sadly Hudson is best known these days for being the most high profile victim of the AIDS virus. Doris Day starred in her own comedy show until 1973 but retired from public life afterwards. In 2011 she made a comeback of sorts by releasing a new album entitled ‘My Heart.’
Can’t say I cared much for Skyfall but clearly I seem to be in the minority. Anyway here’s the programme notes for the latest screening at The Station.
Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)
“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”
Having successfully rebooted the Bond franchise with Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell) producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson found making a worthy follow-up problematic. A strike enforced by the Writers Guild of America meant Quantum of Solace started filming without a finished screenplay. The resulting movie naturally enough seems rushed but despite the low-key approach and its perceived failure Quantum of Solace remains one of the more interesting Bond films. Not many big-budget action movies are concerned thematically with the effects of grieving.
Still it wasn’t what audiences wanted after the confident approach of Casino Royale. Worse was to come for Eon Productions when their partners MGM filed for bankruptcy. There were worrying echoes of the prolonged absence from the screens after 1989’s Licence to Kill (John Glen) when a series of legal wrangles shut down the franchise for six years and led to the cancellation of a proposed third Timothy Dalton film titled ‘The Property of a Lady.’ For a few months it seemed like Daniel Craig might share the same fate as his predecessor until Sony stepped in and signed a deal to co-finance and distribute all future Bond films.
Eon have brought together an impressive group of A-List talent. Director Sam Mendes won an Oscar for American Beauty (1999) and previously worked with Daniel Craig on the gangster movie Road to Perdition (2004). Cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James) is widely regarded as being one of the greatest in his field. Spanish actor Javier Bardem is an impressive bad guy sporting a haircut that’s every bit as weird as his barnet in No Country for Old Men (2008, Joel & Ethan Coen). The plot is relatively straightforward. Bond must battle to save his surrogate Queen M (Judi Dench) from a vengeful former agent while Intelligence Chief Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) tries to enforce her retirement.
Skyfall feels like a new beginning once again reinstating classic elements from the Bond franchise including Q (Ben Wishaw) and the Walther PPK, but also reinventing the past. Danny Boyle opened the Olympics in style with a short film showing James Bond escorting a certain VIP to the opening ceremony. Mendes continues this celebratory theme for the franchise’s 50th anniversary year and affirms James Bond’s place as a British cultural icon even going as far to emphasise his Anglo-Scottish roots. Time will tell if Skyfall deserves a place alongside the great Bond films but for now it is the right film at the right moment.
“All the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) scandalises Russian society by embarking on a tempestuous affair with handsome young cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thus putting her husband Karenin’s (Jude Law) political ambitions in jeopardy. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s formally daring approach to Tolstoy’s novel sets the action within an elaborately constructed theatre. By refusing to place events in real locations Wright adds a phantasmagorical touch as if these characters exist out-with their own time replaying events from the past. It is a bold conceit but one that never diverts from the power of Tolstoy’s story or the very fine performances from Knightley and in particular Jude Law.
Director Profile – Joe Wright
British director Joe Wright started his career directing dramas for the BBC, most notably Charles II: The Power and the Passion (2003). This led to him being chosen to direct Pride and Prejudice (2005) for Working Title Films with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen (both of whom appear in Anna Karenina). Another literary adaptation followed with Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007) again with Knightley. The Soloist (2009) based on the true story of a musician who develops schizophrenia and ends up homeless didn’t receive the acclaim of Wright’s earlier films but it is an affecting work with great performance from Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Hanna (2009) is an odd mixture of action movie and fairytale starring Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan as father and daughter assassins.
Tolstoy on Film
Tolstoy has been well served by film. Greta Garbo made an impression in a 1935 version of Anna Karenina (dir. Clarence Brown). Russian actor-director Sergei Bonderchuk’s 1967 take on War and Peace is eight hours long but still quicker than reading the book. Robert Bresson’s final film L’ Argent (1983) is a masterly reworking of the Tolstoy short story ‘The Forged Coupon.’ Italian brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani made a typically spare and elegant adaptation of Tolstoy’s ‘Father Serguis.’ With Ivansxtc (2001) Bernard Rose relocates ‘The Life and Death of Ivan Ilyich’ to contemporary Los Angeles as a Hollywood agent faces up to his own mortality.
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard (based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy)
Directed by Joe Wright
Running time 2 hours 10 mins
North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
Introduced by Allan Hunter
“Goodbye Mr Thornhill, wherever you are.”
A man wrongly accused of committing a serious crime and struggling to prove his innocence is a recurring figure in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Suave advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) raises his hand at the wrong moment in a restaurant and is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. Thornhill is then pursued across the country by foreign spies and the police who believe him to be a murderer. Worse still, his mother wants him home for dinner. Thornhill hooks up with a stranger on a train, the achingly lovely Eve (Eva Marie Saint) and the two try to prove his innocence but can she be trusted? Everybody involved in the production brings their A-game. Ernest Lehman’s witty screenplay plays around with notions of identity and truth as well as being daringly suggestive for the times. Bernard Hermann’s score mixes suspense with romanticism. Hitchcock’s stunning use of set-pieces and spectacular locations lays down the template for the modern action movie blockbuster. For a film in which deception features so strongly there is nothing fake about Grant’s effortless charm or his onscreen chemistry with Marie Saint. North by Northwest is an action thriller with plenty of depth.
Film journalist for the Daily Express and Screen Daily, Allan Hunter is also the co-director of the Glasgow Film Festival, an event growing in stature every year. In 2010 Mr Hunter oversaw a retrospective of Cary Grant’s career at the GFF. An admirer of Grant’s work, Mr Hunter will introduce tonight’s screening and afterwards talk about the film.
Cary Grant – Roger O. Thornhill
Eva Marie Saint – Eve Kendall
James Mason – Philip Vanda
Jessie Reynolds – Clara Thornhill
Leo G. Carroll – The Professor
Martin Landau – Leonard
Screenplay by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Running time 2 hrs 16 mins
Only wrote a brief introduction for this screening as a guest speaker was due to make an appearance. If you’d told me when The Station started screening movies that one night there would have been a full house laughing uproariously at a Ken Loach movie I would have thought you were mental.
‘malt whisky epitomises the inherent dichotomy of the Scottish psyche – at once passionate and rational, romantic and ironic, mystical and sceptical, heroic and craven, full of laughter and despair.’
Charles Maclean, Malt Whisky (1998)
Scottish cinema can generally be divided into two categories – gritty urban dramas (Trainspotting, Neds) or charming escapism (Local Hero). Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share manages to cover both territories with this tale of a young tearaway who finds redemption through a developing interest in Malt whisky. Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is a bright lad but never far away from trouble. Unable to extricate himself from a long-time feud with a local gang and hated by his pregnant girlfriend’s family he is running out of chances until kindly community services leader Harry (John Henshaw) takes him under his wing and introduces him to the pleasures of malt whisky. Loach and Glaswegian writer Paul Laverty have collaborated on fourteen other films several of which have been set in Scotlandincluding Carla’s Song (1994), My Name is Joe (98), and Ae Fond Kiss (2004). Always sympathetic to the plight of the underprivileged their work together particularly when dealing with Scots working class life has a great deal of humour present. The Angel’s Share is one of Loach’s warmest films, avoiding his tendency for didacticism but still managing to pass social commentary while being extremely entertaining.
“Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the red shoes dance on.”
Loosely based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Red Shoes is a lavish drama about a ballerina (Moira Shearer) torn between two men. Impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) demands she makes the most of her talent and gives everything up for her art including the affections of composer Julian Craster (Marcus Goring). Early on Lermontov asks her “why do you want to dance?” and she replies “why do you want to live?” Eventually she must make a choice between what she loves and whom she loves.
The work of writer/director team Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell has proven influential over the years. You can see their hand in the work of Baz Luhrmann while the recent Black Swan (2010, Darren Aranofsky) owes much to The Red Shoes. Pressburger was a Hungarian émigré who moved to Berlinto work as a journalist before turning to screenwriting. After the Nazi’s rise to power Pressburger left Germanyfor Englandfinding work in the film industry with Alexander Korda’s studio. Michael Powell worked prolifically in the 30’s providing quickly made features to meet the British film industry’s quota for home grown films. However The Edge of the World (37), loosely inspired by the evacuation of St. Kilda showed a developing style and an interest in mysticism.
Korda put Powell and Pressburger together on the war film The Spy in Black (39) and they became friends. Forming their own production called The Archers and working with total autonomy within the Rank Organisation they began to make highly distinctive and idiosyncratic films often in Technicolor, a process which saturates the frame with bright colours and would later become synonymous with the musical. During the 1940’s they created a series of classics, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (43), I Know Where I’m Going! (45), A Matter of Life and Death (46), and Black Narcissus (47).
Despite its success The Red Shoes went over budget bringing them into conflict with Rank who cut them loose. They returned to low-budget filmmaking for the underrated The Small Back Room (49), about a troubled bomb disposal expert, and then back to Technicolor for the opera Tales of Hoffman (51) but neither made much impact at the box-office. Their films became increasingly compromised by studio interference and they separated in 1957. Powell effectively destroyed his career with the haunting serial killer film Peeping Tom (1960) which caused outrage in Britainon its release. In the 60’s British cinema tended towards realism and Powell and Pressburger’s movies with their love of the fantastical, high emotions, and bright gaudy colours fell out of fashion.
A critical reappraisal of their work began in the 70’s when Martin Scorsese began to champion Michael Powell and cited The Red Shoes as being his favourite film.
Just back from the latest screening at the Station. Mike Nichols film has held up well and remains one of the most interesting films from that particular period in American cinema. Here are my accompanying notes for the screening programme.
The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this, you lose
‘Mrs Robinson’ Simon & Garfunkel
Anticipating the aimless troubled protagonists of the late 60’s and early 70’s in American films like Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger), Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson), and Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese), The Graduate is a darkly comic movie about a young man’s affair with an older woman. Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college as an award-winning scholar and track star. Everybody wants to know what he plans to do next but Benjamin has no idea. His parents are pressurising him to go to Grad school but Benjamin would rather just take it easy for a while. Drinking her way through a bad marriage, whatever dreams Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) may have had are long gone. Cynical and embittered she may be but Mrs Robinson is still a very attractive woman and she seduces Benjamin despite his weak attempt at preserving his innocence. But their secret relationship becomes awkward when her pretty daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross) returns from university.
The clash between the younger generation and the establishment was playing out across America with anti-Vietnam protests, civil rights demonstrations, and an emerging counter culture which rejected many of the ideals their parents believed in. Director Mike Nichols and his screenwriters Buck Henry and Calder Willingham present this generational conflict in The Graduate. Though the story is told from Benjamin’s perspective he is as flawed as his elders. The older generation are presented as being decadent and burnt out, yet they do at least know what they believe in. Benjamin is drifting, terrified by the lightness freedom can bring.
Nichols won a Best Director Oscar for his work on The Graduate. Having tasted success with his adaptation of the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Nichols work here is more formally daring often foregoing narrative for observing Benjamin as he wanders around looking lost or hangs out by the pool. Simon and Garfunkel’s music is an integral part of the film. Though only the track ‘Mrs Robinson’ was written specifically for The Graduate the songs taken from their album ‘The Sound of Silence’ lend a haunting atmosphere to the film.
STATION SUPPER & MOVIE NIGHT PRESENTS
A film by Mike Nichols
Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college. What now? Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) thinks she knows what’s best for this aimless young man. A 60’s classic with a haunting soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel, The Graduate is one of the defining American movies of its generation.
Thursday May 10th
STATION SUPPER & MOVIE NIGHT PRESENTS
THE RED SHOES (1948)
A Film by Michael Powell
“Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the red shoes dance on.”
Loosely based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Red Shoes is a lavish drama about a ballerina (Moira Shearer) torn between her devotion to dancing and her love for a young composer (Marcus Goring).
7 pm THURSDAY JUNE 7th
Never much cared for The Italian Job. Love the opening sequence but its matey banter and its Euro-phobic stance leave me cold. I prefer Michael Caine in the Harry Palmer movies, or his pair of Mike Hodges films, Get Carter (1971) and the underrated Pulp (1973), or James Clavell’s weird anti-religious period movie The Last Valley (1971). Anyway, here’s my programme notes.
The Italian Job (1969, Peter Collinson)
The Italian Job misdirects the audience with an opening sequence which introduces us to a suave middle-aged man (Italian actor Rossano Brazzi) as he drives a Lamborghini through the Alps as Matt Monro sings the haunting ‘On Days Like These.’ This is not Brazzi’s movie though, nor is it the Lamborghini’s. The Italian Job belongs to a couple of British institutions – Michael Caine and the Mini Cooper. A moderate box office hit on its initial release in 1969, the film has gradually developed a strong following over the years thanks to regular television screenings and the critical reappraisal of star Michael Caine which began when he became a cult figure with the ‘New Lad’ culture of the mid-90’s and Mike Myers credited him with being one of the inspirations for Austin Powers.
A nuanced and charismatic actor Caine has had a more varied career than people realise but he is best known for his mischievous onscreen persona. Caine first found fame as an upper class army officer in Cy Endfield’s classic war film Zulu (1964). However he soon became known for playing cocky working-class types. As the cynical spy Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File (1965, Sidney J. Furie) he trades barbs with his condescending superiors but gets the job done. As smooth-talking lothario Alfie (1966, Lewis Gilbert) he thinks he’s got all the answers and delivers lengthy monologues to the camera about the meaning of life.
The Italian Job is a cheeky caper movie in which British ingenuity triumphs over continental style and sophistication. No wonder fans of the English national football team have adopted its catchy anthem ‘Getta Bloody Move On’ aka ‘The Self Preservation Society’ into their repertoire. Caine is in his element as the roguish Charlie Croker who walks free from prison and immediately starts work on a plan to steal gold bullion from a delivery in Turin using a football match as cover. Noel Coward makes a surprisingly effective heavy, his character representing the Old Guard of the Establishment, disgusted at having to tolerate a lower-class upstart like Charlie until of course he realises how much money he can make from him.
Credit must also go to French driver Rèmy Julienne and his team who perform the film’s inventive driving stunts and would later work on every James Bond film from For Your Eyes Only (1981, John Glen) to 1995’s Goldeneye (Martin Campbell).
The Artist won five Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Not bad for a black and white silent French movie. A sensation at the Cannes Film Festival back in May 2011 the film was quickly snapped up by film producer Harvey Weinstein. An expert at distributing movies and getting them noticed by the Academy Weinstein previously led films as diverse as The Crying Game (1992, Neil Jordan), The English Patient (1997, Anthony Minghella), and The King’s Speech (2011, Tom Hooper) to box office success and the Oscars.
Silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin) basks in the success of his latest movie. Accompanied everywhere onscreen and off by his beloved canine sidekick Valentin is the biggest star in town, but his refusal to adapt to the arrival of talking pictures puts his career in jeopardy. A young starlet Peppy Miller (Bejo) whom Valentin helped get started in Hollywoodreplaces him in the public’s affections and he is quickly forgotten. That is by everybody except Peppy who keeps an eye on her old mentor but knows he is too proud to accept her help.
Director Michel Hazanavicius and Dujardin previously worked together on a couple of comedies OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies (2006) and its sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009). Expertly sending up the spy movie, most notably the Connery era Bonds they showcased Dujardin’s physical athleticism and his ability to make a conceited idiot likeable. Hazanavicius skilfully recreated the look and feel of the Sixties spy film so successfully both of these movies seemed to belong entirely to the period they were set in. The Artist too feels like a genuine silent era film, right down to its use of intertitles and its reliance on composer Ludovic Bource’s wonderful score to accompany the images.
Valentin bears a passing resemblance to silent screen star Douglas Fairbanks, one of the most charismatic and physically agile performers ever to grace the screen. Footage from Fairbanks great swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1921, Fred Niblo) even appears in the film briefly, edited into a sequence with Dujardin dressed as Zorro. The resemblance is purely physical though, Valentin shares Fairbanksdelight in his own athleticism and his considerable charm, but not his intelligence. Fairbankswas smart, experimenting with sound, co-founding United Artists, and the UCLA’s film department.
Though cult filmmaker Guy Maddin has directed full length silent movies, notably a stunning ballet version of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (2002) his work is only really of interest to film buffs. The Artist however succeeds as a loving tribute to the silent era and as a mainstream crowd-pleaser. Cute dog too.