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Going Mad in Hollywood: And Life with Lindsay Anderson
Going Mad in Hollywood: And Life with Lindsay Anderson
by Malcom MacDowell
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but stay sceptical..., 21 Mar 2014
The screenwriter of "If...", "O Lucky Man!" and "Britannia Hospital", David Sherwin has had precious little luck in the film game outside those three brilliant Lindsay Anderson movies - his only other scripting credit (the most recent, thirty years ago) was on a TV movie with Brooke Shields. This 1996 book describes how, as a student in his teens, Sherwin collaborated with John Howlett (who seems to have had even less luck) on the first draft of "If..." (it was called "Crusaders", then), and, with an insane optimism born of impossible innocence, hawked it around for years until Anderson latched onto it. Realising he had met an ideal collaborator, Anderson stuck with Sherwin, and the team also attempted a number of other projects, and were still trying to get ideas off the ground at the time of Anderson's sudden death in 1994. This book is as much about Anderson as it is Sherwin, and his death brings it to a close. It's all terribly interesting - the trouble is, how much of it can be believed? There are astoundingly numerous - and obvious - factual errors, and, although the book is presented as a series of diary entries, it can't possibly really be that. The mistakes start on the very first page, which presents Sherwin as an 18-year-old student at Oxford in May, 1960 - but he was born in February, 1942, as we are told a few pages later, and Oxford terms start in October, not May, so he was thus too young then to become an undergraduate. He might, just possibly, have squeezed in early, had he been a certifiable boy genius, but, as he fails his exams and is asked to leave (also in May, we're told - no, that would have been in July or August), he can't have been. In December, 1962, he tells us, he met the director Nicholas Ray, who asked him to become his assistant on his next film, "55 Days At Peking", but that film was in the can by then (Ray had been fired from it the previous September). In October, 1965, he happens upon the Oxford location filming of Joseph Losey's "Accident", around a year before it actually took place, and in the summer of 1966, Seth Holt tells him he is about to start directing Bette Davis in "The Nanny", a film which had opened in London cinemas the previous autumn. With clangers like these coming at us thick and fast from the outset (all of them presumably unnoticed by Sherwin's editor, Charles Drazin, who nowadays likes to present himself as a film historian), one cannot have too much confidence in the accuracy of the book. A pity, for it deals with the creation of some major British films, presents a detailed portrait of a major director (although Anderson yet again seems an arrogant monster) and, on the sidelines, offers amusing and often scabrous portraits of famous movie people - Sherwin's accounts of Jon Voight and Mia Farrow are all too horribly believable. Sherwin does not depict himself flatteringly - he comes across as a hopelessly impractical pseudo-romantic and drunk - and one can only sympathise with him, having expended his life on dozens, if not hundreds, of film projects which got nowhere, and did not even pay him very much in all too many cases. But, whilst his memoirs are extremely readable, it's not a book you can trust.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2014 5:12 PM BST


Ken Adam and the Art of Production Design
Ken Adam and the Art of Production Design
by Christopher Frayling
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Great subject, but not quite the book it might have been, 20 Feb 2014
The career of Sir Ken Adam, one of the geniuses of film design, was surely worth a book, and Sir Ken (the first film designer ever to be knighted) is possessed of a fairly phenomenal memory about his adventures over fifty-odd years in the movie business. The book is extensively illustrated (though we might have had some colour!) and the detail is fascinating. In fact, the book has only one problem, really, and that is the inescapable presence of Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, who, as ever, is most anxious that we recognise him as a knowing, clever fellow and as a great friend of Sir Ken's. But readers of this book don't want to know about Frayling, we want to know about Adam, and all the too-numerous interludes where Frayling intrudes instances of his own supposed cleverness get to be immensely irritating. He isn't half as knowledgeable or funny as he thinks he is, he is patronising and he shows a startlingly poor taste in movies (this is man who actually likes "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" and "In And Out"!); he certainly doesn't want to submerge his own personality so we can concentrate on the brilliance of his subject. As a result, areas of Adam's career are inadequately explored, some of his films are ignored or passed over too quickly, and too much space is taken up with irrelevancies. Adam is, however, endlessly fascinating, and it is good to have a tribute to so important a figure.


Criterion Collection: Simon of the Desert [DVD] [2009] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Criterion Collection: Simon of the Desert [DVD] [2009] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Silvia Pinal
Offered by supermart_usa
Price: 11.20

5.0 out of 5 stars The last dance of humanity, 17 Feb 2014
Anyone stupid enough to believe that "Monty Python's Life Of Brian" is some sort of anti-religious satire (or even just a good comedy) should see this Bunuel film and start thinking, for a change. Bunuel's film is barely more than two-fifths of that ghastly film's length, but it's at least a million times funnier and at least ten million times sharper, cleverer, and more thought-provoking. "Brian" is disgusting, an inhuman con-trick played by smart-arses on the devotees they so despise. "Simon" is a small, beautiful comic jewel about how hard it is to be a saint, and the inevitability of the human race's rush to self-destruction. Bunuel made many greater films, but it's a splendid thing, nonetheless, a satire which never loses its humanity even when it gets pointed enough to hurt.


Joanna (BFI Flipside) (DVD + Blu-ray)
Joanna (BFI Flipside) (DVD + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Genevieve Waite
Price: 18.58

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Swinging London? Swinging from a gibbet..., 17 Feb 2014
Having been a mediocre pop singer, a poor actor and a terrible film critic, Mike Sarne got into his head that he knew how to be a film director and somehow obtained the wherewithal to make this movie about Swinging London, with which he intended to turn his girlfriend, Genevieve Waite, into a star. Those of us who had disparaged his earlier efforts were left chopfallen in the extreme - we really hadn't known when we were well off, for Sarne was vastly more lousy at directing than he'd been in his previous show business jobs. What must it have been like for professional people to take their orders from someone so blatantly incompetent? The film is trivial, derivative, silly, nasty and dull, and in, its native Britain, it was ignored or derided. In America, where people perhaps didn't know how utterly false its portrait of London life was, it did a bit of business, and this led Twentieth Century Fox to make the utterly catastrophic decision to entrust Sarne with the director's role on "Myra Breckinridge". This proved to be a huge money-loser, an even bigger prestige-loser and one of the most disgraceful films ever made in Hollywood. Ms. Waite gave up acting (shrewdly), whilst Sarne's directing career simply collapsed, thank God. He just seemed to get worse and worse - "Myra" was, incredibly, a steep decline from "Joanna". At least "Joanna" has some fine photography from Walter Lassally (who may simply have ignored Sarne) and Donald Sutherland, Calvin Lockhart and the gorgeous Glenna Forster-Jones all maintain their professional standards, which can't have been easy. Incidentally, why the British Film Institute should have regarded this drivel as worthy of restoration and DVD/Blu-Ray release whilst several key British movies of the 60s remain unavailable - where are the British editions of "Nothing But The Best", "Station Six - Sahara" and "Otley"? - is an unfathomable mystery.


A British Picture: An Autobiography
A British Picture: An Autobiography
by Ken Russell
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just like a Russell film, 3 Feb 2014
Those who detest Ken Russell's films will find their deepest prejudices reinforced by this 1990 autobiography, and even his keenest admirers will end up wondering if his detractors weren't right about him after all. The book is a Russell movie in print form, loud, vulgar, self-indulgent, irritating and, very sizeable warts and all, fascinating. It was ever Russell's way to make films about other people to tell us about himself. This book resembles his 1974 biopic "Mahler" in construction, hopping about friskily in time from a 1976 opening, where the 49-year-old terrible infant is trying desperately to finish "Valentino" during the final break-up with wife Shirley, whilst also coping with the news that his long-unseen mother has been committed to a home as senile by his unloving dad. We return to this situation repeatedly as the narrative diverges into a non-chronological account of Russell's life - his miserable youth as a naval cadet, his career at the BBC, his unhappiness directing his flop cinema debut ("French Dressing" in 1964) and his emergence as a big-time player as the 70s began. He shows few self-analytical skills and is none too keen on self-criticism - but he sure reveals himself. This is the memoir of an arrogant man who takes offence easily and never forgets a slight. Condescending towards his working-class parents, seemingly indifferent to the many children of his 21-year first marriage, riven with hostility at work (David Puttnam, Paddy Chayefsky and Kathleen Turner all get savaged), Russell seems, as he says at the outset, a man without friends, but his worst venom is reserved for Shirley. Her brilliant work as costume designer on all his films up to "Valentino", and later on "Chariots Of Fire", "Reds" and many others, rates only a few words; instead we get relentless disparagement, and, though he says she looked like Audrey Hepburn, she's made to seem like one of the monster women so profusely found in his films - devouring (Sara Kestelman in "Lisztomania"), deceitful (Amanda Donohoe in "The Rainbow" or Helen Mirren in "Savage Messiah"), a shrieking virago (Antonia Ellis in "Mahler"), catty and domineering (Glenda Jackson in almost any of her films for him). This contrasts with his portrait of his much-younger second wife, Viv, a cross between Twiggy in "The Boy Friend" and Blair Brown in "Altered States". It's frankly embarrassing how much Ken gushes about Viv, and he implies that, though he didn't stick with his family, the BBC, Roman Catholicism or Shirley, this time it's for real. About a year after this book came out, Viv dumped him, and, with his movie career in tatters, he went on to two more marriages before dying at 84, decades after his best work. Well, no-one said film directors had to be nice guys, and Russell did direct some of the most vigorous, provocative, imaginative cinema produced in Britain over the last fifty years. But he also made a good deal of god-awful, vulgar, splenetic rubbish, with both extremes often manifested in the same film (or even the same scene). This book shows us a boorish, hypocritical, small-minded, resentful, snobbish buffoon. He may have thought of himself as resembling Alan Bates in "Women In Love", but one is left wondering if he wasn't more like Anthony Perkins in "Crimes Of Passion".


Trial & Error [DVD]
Trial & Error [DVD]
Offered by FUNTIME MEDIA
Price: 3.39

3.0 out of 5 stars This is not the title!, 3 Feb 2014
This review is from: Trial & Error [DVD] (DVD)
"Trial And Error" is not the proper title of this film. This is the 1962 film, "The Dock Brief", directed by James Hill - a rare flop for Peter Sellers from the period when he was at a peak of critical and public popularity. The film adapts from a half-hour radio play by John Mortimer, who also turned it into a short stage play (half of a double bill). It is highly unlikely that it would ever have been made into a film without Sellers's contribution. He plays a broken-down old man, a hack lawyer who gets a dock brief to defend a wife-murderer. (In other words, he is appointed by the court to represent someone who has no lawyer). The problem is, poor Mr. Fowle (Richard Attenborough) makes no bones about having killed his loud, shrewish wife, and the old, failed lawyer's dreams of finally getting a case where he can show off his skills and achieve the celebrity which has always eluded him are unlikely to come true. The unhappy old man must face up to the truth about himself. It is essentially not a comedy, but a sad, bitter character study with a few mordant jokes. An audience can only be expected to take so much of this sort of thing, and half-an-hour was probably about the right length for the piece; expanding it to feature film proportions gives everyone problems, and various flashbacks which allow Sellers to look his actual age at the time (late 30s) are largely irrelevant. The film depicts two miserable characters whose loneliness and unhappiness make them unlikely friends; the twist whereby Attenborough finally does get off is highly unconvincing. Both stars are very good, but it's hardly a film to make you cheerful.


The Richard Burton Diaries by Williams, Chris (2012)
The Richard Burton Diaries by Williams, Chris (2012)
by Chris Williams
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but banal, 31 Jan 2014
This book is being touted as a great cultural event, and Professor Chris Williams of Swansea University is no doubt about the importance of publishing these diaries - or, one suspects, about his own importance as their editor. It is a very large volume, almost 700 pages, and covers the great actor's private musings between 1939 and 1983; they stop a little before Burton's sudden death at age 58. It seems not to have occurred to Prof. Williams that the private diaries of even a very famous man might well seem banal to anyone else, and these particular diaries have enormous gaps in them. There is nothing from the 1950s, when Burton became an international film star, or between 1960 and 1965, when his first marriage broke up about as turbulently and publicly as any marriage of the twentieth century ever did. Burton was no more consistent as a diarist than he was as a husband or actor, and so, between these lengthy silences, we have bursts of wordiness without any shape to them. There's no reason why they should have any, of course, as they were never intended for anyone else's eyes, but one rather wonders why it was thought necessary to publish them, in that case, or to give us so very much trivia - Burton the schoolboy telling us about his homework or his woodwork lesson, Burton the Swiss resident telling us he didn't ski today, Burton the drunk confining quite a few diary entries to the one word, "Booze". Prof. Williams seems to think Burton was an intellectual and accepts the actor's oft-iterated claim that what he really should done with his life was write. The diaries contain nothing to suggest more than a reasonably bright, articulate man with a huge ego and a certain amount of self-loathing to go with it. Burton demonstrates a quite shocking incompetence in matters of spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the deep thoughts he offers from time to time are mostly either commonplace or absurd - and they are sometimes quite offensive. Xenophobia runs high in these entries, and, for all his hatred of the Tories, he is something less than a liberal, whilst women are mostly seen as trophy objects. Indeed, Burton comes across as a very cold-blooded fellow, even about his own family. He is also extremely changeable about people - several entries suggest a deep fondness for Rex Harrison, but he also tells us that Harrison would, had he been born in Germany rather than England, have been the archetypal Nazi, whilst Marlon Brando is praised for his sweetness and intelligence in 1966, and dismissed as a "smugly pompous little bastard" and an "obese fart" in 1970. We can believe Burton did genuinely hate acting, and that he took little interest in it (in 1975, he admits to never having seen Albert Finney in anything, for instance); but he is still in thrall to show business, and quite capable of deluding himself - he seems to have thought that "Hammersmith Is Out" and "Staircase", two of his most colossal disasters, were likely to be big box-office hits. There is an awful lot about Elizabeth Taylor, and it's horribly fascinating - the portrait of their marriage that unintentionally emerges is, frankly, enough to curdle the blood. Prof. Williams, in the meantime, makes a big book even bigger by informing us in footnotes that the Battle of Britain was an aerial conflict between Britain and Germany in 1940, that TB is an abbreviation for tuberculosis, and that an Austin Princess is a type of car, amongst several hundred other things that most readers will know already. Teeth-grindingly irritating as most of his pedantry is, he is no more consistent about it that Burton is about keeping a diary - who is the much-mentioned Valerie Douglas, one of Burton's beneficiaries, who is the "Dick Merryman" whose daughter's death Burton notes? We're not told, although we do get told that Hemingway's "The Fifth Column" is a novel (it was his only play) and that Margaret Leighton was a Dame of the British Empire (no, she wasn't). Accounts of film-making hold quite a lot of interest, but it's somehow typical that the book devotes far more space to the likes of "Anne Of The Thousand Days" and "Raid On Rommel" than to any of the good films Burton was in. All in all, the book has some interest as gossip and as a record of self-destruction, but you end up not liking its subject much.


5 Fingers [DVD] [1952]
5 Fingers [DVD] [1952]
Dvd ~ James Mason
Price: 9.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Laughter to beat the devil, 24 Jan 2014
This review is from: 5 Fingers [DVD] [1952] (DVD)
This must have seemed a sensational, outrageous film back in 1952. Only seven years after the war, here was a big American movie where the central character is a spy, not for our side, but for the Nazis, one who, furthermore, obtains full plans for D-Day and sells them to his German paymasters. It was a true story, too, and there must have been a few red faces in London. But director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who also is clearly the author of the extremely witty, rather erudite dialogue, for all that Michael Wilson gets sole script credit) doesn't indulge in the usual Hollywood Brit-bashing; the Albanian-born Diello (James Mason) has only contempt for his Third Reich employers and openly tells them they'll lose the war, whilst the British ambassador he deceives (he's his valet) is shown as a noble old boy whose sense of honour and fair play belongs in a better time. And although Mason is at his most charismatic as Diello, we never exactly like him, we just appreciate that he's smart, daring and funny and a man who's been kept under all his life by an absurd and cruel class-system. Thus, when the film finally unleashes its dynamite double-twist ending on us, it's immensely satisfying; and if Diello is defeated, he's also man enough to see the joke, and his unstoppable laughter when he realises that all his so-careful plans have come to naught might just save his soul. The true story has been elaborately cleaned up and fictionalised - the real "Diello" was a very shabby and sleazy individual named Bazna, and what caused British authorities the most embarrassment was that he would seem to have been the real-life ambassador's lover as well as his manservant, which might explain how he got away with things for so long. The beautiful Countess played by Danielle Darrieux had no counterpart in reality. The film is not wholly without sentimentality about the aristocratic class, and it relentlessly pillories the character of Diello's German embassy contact, Moyzisch (the very funny Oskar Karlweis). Moyzisch is entirely depicted as a buffoon, even though the film-makers wouldn't have had a story without the real man's controversial book about the case. The depiction of war as a madness in which a clever man with no scruples can go from poverty to wealth quickly as long as he never allows himself the sentimentality of idealism is still pretty eyebrow-raising.


Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them
by Frank Langella
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Subtle effluence of cat, 23 Jan 2014
What an unpleasant book this is - and how clearly Frank Langella seems to depict himself. Does he realise, in these catty profiles of famous colleagues and alleged friends (among them Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Celia Johnson, Roddy McDowell, Anne Bancroft and Paul Newman), just how arrogant, cold-blooded, devious and insincere he makes himself seem? One would hesitate at encouraging this self-centred fellow's acquaintance, and the narcissism that so marked his early film roles is pretty blatant throughout, despite some token self-laceration. Several of his pen-portraits are openly hostile, and, even if Charlton Heston, Anthony Quinn and Lee Strasberg were as awful as he claims (easy to believe), the superciliousness he exhibits to certain others is deeply distasteful. He's not a terrible writer, but he doesn't disguise his passion for score-settling as cunningly as he believes, and he is impervious to the feelings of those left behind in the wake of his famous and now-deceased subjects. It's just a nasty read.


3 DVD Box Father Brown Complete Series 1 - BBC - Mark Williams - Region 2 - English Audio - European Import
3 DVD Box Father Brown Complete Series 1 - BBC - Mark Williams - Region 2 - English Audio - European Import
Dvd ~ Mark Williams
Offered by MMRSALES
Price: 7.75

20 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Almost completely dreadful, 16 Jan 2014
What has happened to the BBC? There was a time when they could have been relied upon to do justice to G.K. Chesterton's brilliant creation, the priest who solves crimes, not to bring wrongdoers to man's justice, but to save their souls. But this series has almost nothing to with Chesterton (it is said to be "based on characters created by" him - several of the episodes are not even nominally based on his stories), and is derived, not from his writing, but from the 1954 Alec Guinness film. Derived at some remove, though - it misses the wit, the ingenuity and the spirituality whilst purloining and vulgarising its inventions. Bernard Lee's self-satisfied police inspector from the film is turned into a regular opponent for the Father, a particularly obtuse and unpleasant copper now played by Hugo Speer. Sidney James's reformed-felon chauffeur from the film is turned into a streetwise regular buddy (actually named Sid). The film also updated the priest's adventures to what were then contemporary times, whilst this series cashes in on our supposed nostalgia for a long-vanished Britain by also being set in the 1950s - even though Chesterton began writing the Brown stories before the First World War and died in the 1930s. The Father now lives in a picturesque village, too, so the similarities to Miss Marple are emphasised. But it's not the BBC's brilliant 1980s series of Miss Marple stories that this show recalls, but the ghastly travesties of ITV's "Marple". The scriptwriters seem to know little about the 1950s and have been too lazy to do much research, just as it really does seem highly likely that they have never actually read any of Chesterton's stories. Whilst it's quite deplorable that they should all have been so lazy, it wouldn't matter half so much if there were any evidence that they had some talent of their own. But the scripts are poor, the stories are trivialised. The Guinness movie altered Chesterton quite a lot, but had still had an abundance of humour and cleverness, and it certainly knew what the essence of the stories was. The most unforgivable element of this banal BBC series is that Father Brown's status as a man of God is virtually irrelevant, a gimmick, merely. And it's utterly infuriating that Mark Williams, in the title role, is clearly a good enough actor to have been the perfect Father Brown in something good. He's far from being the only talented player in the show to be misused and cheapened by its banalities.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2014 2:26 PM BST


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