on 29 November 2008
Delighted to see this unique movie has now made it to DVD. It's one of those I didn't think they'd ever do, but gradually studios are seeing the sense to produce DVDs of some pretty niche and uncommercial movies because at last they recognise their artistic and sometimes just mainly nostalgic value. This film has both, and remains the only movie Finney has, to date, directed, and as he's known to be a man who says what he means, looks like staying the only one. This original slice of life, semi autobiographical, semi road movie has some pretty distinctive direction and a notable, quite personal feeling screenplay by fellow Salfordian, Shelagh Delaney, not short of wit.
Although the thread is a very simple one, the way it is unravelled is inventive, full of character, and had a lot of film industry folk talking about an interesting new movie director to look out for. Alas we will probably never know how this briefly promising career would have panned out, but judged on the basis of this movie, it may have been a celebrated one. The career he chose to continue devoting himself to is indeed a celebrated one.
CB is one of those 'day in the life' semi realist type of films so its lack of plot or action won't really please the thrill seekers, I shouldn't think. Got generally favourable press at the time despite its rather predictable flop at the box office. But these days studios are realising the age old truth that artistic successes can be as valuable as purely commercial successes. Has a great cast too - Finney himself never fails to please, and there is Blakely in typically solid supporting role form, and Whitelaw at her best, proving to have real chemistry with Albert, which led to at least one other movie playing his estranged wife again.
Not much really happens in the film, but this isn't the point, it is a little slice of life type movie with some good features - most notable is the distintive direction of first and only time director Finney - he shows a good visual sense troughout the movie with unusual viewpoints, often focusing the camera on what he as Charlie Bubbles is looking at, when the dialogue is coming from others out of shot. Even more notable are the seamless cutaways from one focus point to another, as he takes the camera on the same sort of soulful journey Charlie's on, and it works.
on 17 September 2009
Charlie Bubbles was Albert Finney's one and only shot at directing a film. It came out at the tail end of the 1960s and is clearly inspired by a lot of European cinema such as Antonioni and/or Fellini in it's abstract directorial touches and it's pace and narrative structure.
I'm not quite sure why Finney only directed once in his career, but I can sense that this was a very personal project; one that he simply had to direct and so perhaps once done he never truly felt the need again. It is personal because it offers the tale of a very succesful man, in this case a writer, who came from humble beginning in Salford nr Manchester and who is now, at his height, feeling detached and bored, clearly craving something but he doesn't know what. Now compare this with Finney himself, a very successful man, in his case an actor, who came from humble beginnings in Salford nr Manchester and who perhaps at the time of the film was detached and bored craving a new experience and as we can see, he chose to direct.
The film is a perfect snapshot of the 60s as we imagine or recall them. For me, having lived all my life in the North West of England I well remember the deserted, desolate knocked down streets that Finney's Bubbles drives his Rolls around whilst an excitable Liza Minnelli (a great little performance) rapidly takes snap shots of anything and everything. Indeed, another little treat for anyone from the North in watching this is seeing familiar acting faces of the region such as Bryan Mosely aka Alf Roberts of Coronation Street, John Ronane of Strangers, Joe Gladwin of Last Of The Summer Wine and the Hovis ads and Arthur Pentelow aka Mr Wilks of Emmerdale Farm.
But that is not to say this film is just a nostalgia fest. Far from it, because although on the surface, the ambling narrative may appear to say little, what we actually have here is a very prescient piece on the nature of fame and celebrity, something which is all too easily obsessive for today's Britain whose public clamour for navel gazing reality and fly on the wall TV shows featuring people well exhausting their 15 minutes.
However, 1967 was markedly different in that it was a time when to be famous you had to have talent and people would appreciate you as such. These were the days when te country was more obsessed with class than with celebrity culture, so to be succesful you really did have to achieve. But at what price fame? Charlie lives life constantly detached, viewing events from behind glass, as beautifully witnessed in the scenes were he takes his son to a Man Utd game and they watch in an isolated and clinical private box; or when he returns home, to his banks of TV screens, each focusing on every aspect of the house.
In short, I would truly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys 60s cinema, and who likes a message in their movies. But don't be phased by the pace and the lack of events the film provides, the message is there, but you have to reach inside and look with your own eyes, to interact with it, something that Charlie himself finds difficult to do.
on 13 November 2012
A little difficult to know where we are going with this one. Quite early on in the film I had the impression that this was going to be on the lines of "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End" (see my Amazon review) but no such luck--it quickly lost its way for me.
The film is essentially a series of vignettes of varying duration (some outstaying their welcome) loosely threaded together by the main character of Charlie Bubbles (Finney) himself. (This, I understand, was his first and only? shot at directing a film as well as acting in it. Perhaps the dual roles were rather too much for him to handle?) Some of the episodes come close to being corny, such as when his young protégé slowly undresses him, leaving her extensive black wig on the pillow as she makes for the lower regions of the bed!
On the CD case we have: "Wretched in his wealth, Charles stumbles through life drunk, debauched and dull, until he decides to go home again to revisit his ex-wife (Billie Whitelaw) and child in the North." Whitelaw, we are further told, earned a BAFTA award for her role. She gives a competent performance as was her way but her contribution is minimal. This is misleading since nothing appears to have been resolved by his visiting the old home--on the contrary it would appear.
If the intent was to demonstrate just how blasé one can become about life then it partially succeeds. There may be other dimensions that would require a second watching, something I am disinclined to take on. There are incongruences too (unless I have missed the point) such as Whitelaw espousing a healthy lifestyle on the "farm" with organically grown foods as she puffs her way through one cigarette after another. (I suppose the short episodic, niggling coughing from Finney might have indicated an over indulgence with the cigars?)
Some nice scenic shots from Northern Britain that you'll have a job to see today owing to the rash of wind farms spreading across the landscape. The tranquillity too has been shattered since the Ministry of Defence introduced intensive and extensive low flying by military jets over rural Britain from the early 1970s. And the final farewell as Finney drifts away in a balloon would have him in danger of colliding with a jet in today's utterly insane world.
Perhaps there should be a re-make of the film in order to further emphasize our continual slide into decadence?
[Readers and potential reviewers please note. This review was originally rejected by Amazon for containing a three letter word (English public schoolboys will know the word to which I refer) denoting an alternative for "cigarette". Amazon have an automatic filter system that will reject submissions containing these sensitive words (part or whole word). It has taken me some fourteen days to establish this fact and so I have suggested Amazon should list the words to which its system finds objection.]
This is an unusual film, by anyone's standards but unlike many films from the swinging 60's British 'New Wave' film scene, actually remains very watchable and whilst inevitably many parts and scenes have dated, much remains fresh and invigorating.
Albert Finney, as star, director and creator of the film takes a swipe at both his own persona and origins, as northern boy-made-good who now lives as bestselling author in a CCTV gated community in central London. He has a convertible Rolls (gold in colour) a grumpy housekeeper and a sort of secretary, who is more a groupie cum lover, the wonderful and wacky Liza Minnelli.
The start opens, though, more like an elongated sketch, that only Finney and his best mate Colin Blakely are in on. Never mind, enjoy it for what it is and just assume its aim is to show us how childish and carefree Charlie's life is right then.
Then, in a slightly warped state - as if high on drugs - we're all off, out up the M1 to visit Charlie's ex - and his footballing mad young son, who now lives with her. Without really trying, Mr Bubbles manages to do most things wrong - he loses the boy at the Match and panics, involves the police and he just cannot do right by the ex Mrs Bubbles - a natural and wholly believable Billie Whitelaw.
Talking of being ahead of its time, she, as lone parent lives on a small-holding and talks of organic this-and-that, rearing her free-range chickens, unlike 'those poor factory ones'.
The ending becomes less of an annoyance - and mystery - on repeated viewings. The film's fairly quite short, too and so never outstays its welcome. The talented and influential playwright of the period Shelagh Delaney wrote the screenplay.
So, Charlie B remains a bit of an island amongst British films of the 60's. It's slightly sci-fi, social documentary, fantasy AND kitchen-sink - and in colour. Liza Minnelli a welcome bonus. So, quite an interesting mixture and worth seeking out, but don't expect to be overawed immediately, if at all. But, for the current price, definitely worth the gamble.
on 3 March 2011
A popular and well known but disaffected writer (Albert Finney, who also directed) from a working class background leaves London for a weekend in Manchester in Northern England to visit his estranged wife (Billie Whitelaw, who won the BAFTA supporting actress for her work here) and young son (Timothy Garland). From a screenplay by Shelagh Delaney (A TASTE OF HONEY), this offbeat movie remains the only feature film directed by Finney which is a pity because he has a real director's eye. There's a wonderful sequence played out through multiple B&W screens simultaneously from a security camera watching all the rooms in a house as the characters enter and exit from different rooms as well as a bravado sequence at an all night cafe. Not all of it works. There's a silly scene in a post first class restaurant with Finney and Colin Blakely dumping food on each other that seems to come from another movie. The film is also notable for the film debut (excluding her cameo in IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME) of Liza Minnelli as Finney's American secretary. It's a plotless film, almost surreal in execution but engaging nevertheless. The superbly bleak photography is by Peter Suschitsky. With Yootha Joyce.
The Freemantle DVD from Great Britain is an above average anamorphic wide screen (about 1.77) transfer.
on 28 July 2011
I've yet to be driven up the M6 to Manchester overnight in a Rolls Royce, but in 1967 it obviously wasn't all that different from what you got for your bus fare, and I know only too well what that was like. This film tells that sort of truth very well indeed, and from all sorts of oblique angles. One of its targets, and it's not clear sometimes whether they are Finney's or Shelagh Delaney's, is the impact of the sour end of the decade itself. This is the world Julie Christie left in "Billy Liar". London was where it was at. Finney has conquered London and the victory means nothing to him. Though he and Colin Blakely enjoy themselves in the opening slapstick sequence, Finney is required to live up to his servants' expectations as soon as he gets home. The shambolic trip north to take his son to Manchester United v Chelsea isn't an escape. The old city's character no longer exists - even ten years earlier he'd have been in the grand Victorian Midland Hotel ( which still stands). Now it's the ghastly new Piccadilly, but Finney/Charlie is too tired/hungover to care. Finney/director does. Tips worth half a week's wages to get rid of the waiter who knew his father, and a claustrophobic sort of pass from American intern Liza Minelli,( feature debut) whose ancestors, if you can believe it, also came from Manchester, (which she first sees as a pit, and then a vast demolition site, to be photographed with enthusiasm) and who manages to lose her false ponytail on his pillow, but nothing else, say it all. This is not how life should be. The year after the World Cup, this was not a feelgood film. Deeply unfashionable, it didn't get general release. But it was right about the end of the Wilson years and a good deal else. Not much forging ahead and a lot of cheap quick fixes.
Then we are in the Derbyshire dales. Billie Whitelaw, at her best, has conquered this territory and is going to hold it. Tough, tender, businesslike and fiery. None of that green nonsense for her. Finney brings celebrity ( doorstepping pressmen) and incompetence - his 8 year old son dumps him at Old Trafford and goes home by train on his own. It's hard to say which bores her more. Finney can't even manage the worried father role. All he can do is vanish, which he does.
Finney the director is alive and original. Finney the actor is less inventive. The film bounces off Charlie Bubbles, who relies on unchanging facial expression, the occasional cigar, and a routine dismissiveness to get him through the complexities of his Manchester visit. But with Whitelaw he marshals skill and subtlety. Perhaps Colin Blakely shouldn't have been put to bed so early, though that would have led to a different movie altogether.
Someone like Rohmer wouldn't have made half the mistakes in this film, but it's worth cherishing all the same, for the mood, the images, and the interplay between Finney and Whitelaw. Supporting actress? You have to be kidding.
on 28 November 2012
I bought this DVD because i have admired Albert Finney's work for many years. The storyline was thin, but interesting with some great photography, until the end, which I found strange and stupid, leaving the viewer in mid-air and confused.
on 28 June 2012
British film of 1967, starring Billie Whitelaw and Albert Finney, and also featuring a young (and already nutty) Liza Minnelli. It was listed to compete at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the events of May 1968 in France. Finney starred in and directed the movie for the only time. For her performance, Miss Whitelaw (rightly) won the 1968 British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for Best Supporting Actress.
The character Charlie Bubbles was almost type-casting for the successful and charismatic Finney in terms of background; he had risen to film-stardom from a background as a bookie's son in the neighbouring, mainly working class City of Salford. Joe Gladwin plays a waiter serving breakfast in the Manchester hotel room. "I used to know your father sir. We're all very proud of you. Are you still working sir or do you just do the writing now?" Bubbles retorts "No. Just the writing" and hands him a bank note. This scene and others highlight the North-South divide - political and economic - that exists in Britain.
The film made great play of its Manchester setting, contrasting the return of its eponymous lead character, played by Finney, to his home city after achieving success as a writer in London. During his return he visits his former wife, played by Whitelaw. The film is a slightly surreal off-shoot of the kitchen sink drama in which Finney had achieved stardom in Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning of 1960. The film's writer Shelagh Delaney, had also achieved fame as the writer of another film in this genre - Tony Richardson's 1961 A Taste of Honey. Delaney also wrote Lindsay Anderson's 1967 film The White Bus like Charlie Bubbles, set in part in Manchester and Salford, which has a distinctly surreal feel to it at times.
(The previous text has been abbreviated and edited from wikipedia material).
The poetic end of the film is both pessimistic and optimistic: Charlie Bubbles leaves his native area again in a fictive hot air balloon, which will carry him into a world potentially less weighed down by everyday realities.
98 - Charlie Bubbles' by Albert Finney (1967, 89')'' - 28/6/2012
on 23 October 2011
At first I found this movie unfulfilling. It didn't satisfy. The story remained up in the air (excuse the pun) its arc seemingly unfulfilled. Other reviewers have commented on how very little happens. But after a night's sleep it occured to me that perhaps this is exactly the feeling the movie is trying to instill. Mr Bubbles is detached from his old life by his new. See how he watches each room and his hired help in his mansion through CCTV and how he watches football away from the stands in a glass box. Note how his life has moved on and Manchester is being bulldozed for a new look.
Frustration is one of the great things in art. Satisfaction is nothing.
Early in the film Charlie meets an old mate and they go drinking. They have a good time but it begins to pall for Charlie. He finds no solace in his old ways or his new. This isn't a sad existential film but it deals with issues that must be relevant to many of us in a calm understated way.
on 17 July 2013
Exactly the sort of film which the BBC or Channel Four should be showing on Tuesday afternoons instead of their predictable diet of war films or John Wayne (or war films and John Wayne!).
Billie Whitelaw is in it and excels, I've never seen her in anything bad.
However, the clear star of the show is the 1960s.
Liza Minelli is the one slightly (only very slightly) false note.
And if you thought Manchester United plc becoming a corporate monster with absolutely no soul was a recent thing, 'Charley Bubbles' points to the fact that it was well on its way by 1967! What a thoroughly miserable place.
How prescient is that?!