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That Perfect Thing Called.....
on 20 July 2011
Ken Russell's 'The Boyfriend' has a heart-breaking editorial history stemming back to the early seventies.
Briefly, the moguls at MGM decided they knew better than the likes of Russell and Sam Peckinpah and set about butchering some of their major works. In Peckinpah's case, 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid' ~ which to this day has never fully recovered.
The hailed-to-the-heavens 'director's cut' remedied the situation to a large degree, thanks to Spottiswode and Halsey's timely intervention - but it remains a somewhat early-bird director's cut; certainly some of the editing suggests Peckinpah hadn't completely finished attending to it.
Fortunately, with this release of 'the Boyfriend' we now have the final word on this previously unattractively decimated work. With all the footage previously only seen on the ridiculous - but at the the time, vital - 3-sided laserdisc, restored to it's pomp, Russell's tiny, provincial tale of back-stage back-stabbing and ultimately triumphant true love can now be properly appreciated.
It's the cliched tale of a shy, baleful understudy, Polly Browne (Twiggy) who gets her big chance when the leading lady (an un-credited, biting cameo from Glenda Jackson) breaks her ankle - and proceeds to wow and win over the ten people in the audience, while predictably capturing her true love, Tony (Christopher Gable).
So far so not-so-inspiring, it's only when Russell goes into Busby Berkely mode that 'the Boyfriend' kick-starts ~ and some of the numbers are jaw-dropping. Throwing everything at it, Polly goes from Vision of Ecstasy to sweetheart of Bacchus without drawing breath. The images are astonishing, and so charmingly overstated by an obviously-in-his-element Russell and his rip-roaringly in-simpatico cast, that it would take a cold heart indeed not to be invigoratingly warmed by it all.
The ambitious, bickering supporting cast - led by a hysterical Max Adrian and foxy Antonia Ellis - are uniformly superb. Each wishing failure and disgrace on each other, and each's self-delusional over-the-topness (hey, we're back to Cowell again !), escalating to frenzy when it's revealed that the mogul film director, Cecil B. De Thrille, is talent-spotting from his vantage high above the sparse viewing congregation.
Occasionally, what plot there is, does seem slightly contrived to get from one flowing musical opus to the next, but it's not a deal breaker. Russell powers the whole shebang along in such fine, frivolous fashion that you scarcely notice. In fact, it plays like a horror movie in that the dialogue is sporadically just a segue into the next marauding, throbbing set-piece. The charm factor is amusingly high; from every over-played routine or belted out song to every chirpy, stilted dialogue exchange, the film drips it from every frame.
'the Boyfriend's hues dazzle, it's message reassures and it's exuberant innocence refreshes. It's a simple but satisfying way to spend 2+ summer hours, if, as I do, you despise the sun.
Ken Russell at some kind of apex; amazing to think it has to be regarded as an 'early work' when it's so polished.
And not a nubile naked nun nor nightmare nympho nazi to be seen anywhere.