Talking Movies

May 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

If not Lazenby, then who?

Almost anyone. But seriously, folks. There were any number of actors in England in 1968 who could have done a better job of picking up the keys to Sean Connery’s Aston Martin. A typically three-cornered hat discussion with Friedrich Bagel and The Engineer to the music of de Falla produced this shortlist of contenders:

Rod Taylor, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Oliver Reed, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Terence Stamp, Anthony Hopkins

Patrick McGoohan, Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lee, Nicol Williamson, David Warner, Edward Fox

Now, not all of these people would have been asked, and some of them would likely have refused had they been asked, (Alan Bates and Nicol Williamson spring to mind), and some of them would likely have refused contemptuously (*Dear EON, Patrick McGoohan has had quite enough of playing spies at this point, thank you very much). The EON producers would never have seriously asked a bona fide film leading man like Caine, in order to keep the budget down. They would have asked a TV star like Roger Moore, sadly tied up with The Saint, or Timothy Dalton, a supporting player in a major film. As indeed they did. But the actual shortlist of undistinguished Bond contenders from whom Lazenby won based on a screen test is the stuff of madness when you consider that all these alternatives were available. The roguishness of Oliver Reed’s 007, the undercurrent of menace of Malcolm McDowell’s Bond, the unpredictability of David Warner’s agent: these are the roads not taken. There seems to be some sort of retrospective attempt to insist they needed to cast an unknown actor, like they had with Sean Connery. But Sean Connery was not unknown when he was cast. Far from it, he had already appeared in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and his supporting role in The Longest Day would have been appreciated by British TV audiences who, between 1959 and 1961, had seen him as Count Vronsky, Hotspur, Macbeth and Alexander the Great. He was not an unknown, he was quite well known to British audiences as a leading man playing historic roles. Lazenby by contrast was quite well known to British audiences for advertising Fry’s chocolate bars.

The critical rehabilitation narrative

I’ve been thinking recently about what we might dub the critical rehabilitation narrative. Nothing seems to please some critics more than to discover neglected masterpieces, to rescue from the discard bin gems that were unappreciated at the time. The only problem is sometimes the critics are very pleased with themselves, their wider critical narrative powers along, and it’s only a minor detail that the film in question is still rubbish. That’s not to say that it is wrong to revisit films and see if they were misjudged; after all Fight Club suffered hugely from being released so soon after Columbine. But sometimes there is much to be said for reading the original reviews and getting a bracing perspective, like disinterring The Cabinet of Dr Caligari from the reverence of generations of film students and discovering in Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture that its own writers disowned the finished film for changes made to its finale which they regarded as dangerously reversing its political message, and doing so at a time that imperilled the nascent republic. Or realising that Matthew Modine saying recently that Full Metal Jacket has aged better than other Vietnam films because it’s finale of urban insurgency could be in Iraq only proves the point of the objections made by critics on release. Because of the WB indulging Kubrick’s power-tripping laziness he had departed from the novel’s jungle war conclusion to instead depict the (easily manufactured in England) ruined city of Hue, because he couldn’t be bothered leaving England. And it would be hard to easily manufacture in England a jungle war. Just as well Vietnam wasn’t noted for being a JUNGLE WAR. Revolution was reviled on release and exiled Pacino to Broadway. But Revolution is an unfocused film of baffling decisions, like shooting it entirely in England and not having Annie Lennox sing, rather than an outright atrocity. Watching its depiction of the start of the American Revolution, the mob bullying, the expropriation, the self-interested and abrasive self-righteousness is oddly reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago’s portrayal of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard not to think that this enraged American critics at the time, who sublimated that rage into attacks from other angles. And yet the final minutes of Revolution feature a truly astonishing tracking shot, a technical marvel and a triumph of production design, that I have never ever heard anyone praise or even mention. If you can’t do the hard work of salvaging the good from amidst the bad then what is the point of critical rehabilitation?

September 26, 2013

Graham Greene Festival 2013

I’m off to Graham Greene’s birthplace Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire for the Graham Greene Festival 2013 which takes place this weekend.

title2013I’ve been commended in the playwright category of this year’s creative writing awards, for my short satirical script The Bungalows of Old Hollywood, but this festival, which is only a half-hour train ride from London Euston, is well worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties. The always interesting line up of talks and screenings this year notably includes Greta Scacchi attending a screening of her 1985 Greene film Dr Fischer of Geneva, and the book launch by Pierre Smolik of Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter, which covers the little researched Swiss sojourn of the adventurous writer.

Thursday 26 September

5.15 The Festival Gathering Supper at the Kings Arms Hotel 
Chicken casserole, apple crumble, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of pastas or risotto.
This is a very happy social occasion when old friends meet, and new ones are introduced to our Festival good cheer. It is a chance to meet up with some of those at the centre of the Greene world. All are most welcome. We need to know numbers for certain by Thursday 19th September. There is a maximum of 70 tickets.

The position of the Kings Arms is marked on the map on the Venues page.

Cost: £18

7.15 Film Night at the Civic Centre 
Film: Dr Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party (1985) 
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Starring: James Mason, Alan Bates and Greta Scacchi.
Greta Scacchi, who takes the role of Anna-Luise, has promised to be with us. This film combines Greene’s witty and cynical observations on human greed with a touching love story. The plot was conceived at a Christmas party when Graham was with his daughter and grandsons. Caroline Bourget (his daughter) and Andrew (grandson) will be with us this evening, and so the story comes full-circle – and in Berkhamsted. This will be an entertaining evening when we, the audience, can – after the film – participate in some of the fun. Members of Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild are entitled to a discount of 25% of the cost of their ticket for the screening of Dr Fischer of Geneva. This may be claimed at the door if a valid union card is shown. The film will immediately be followed by a ‘Question and Answer’ session between Greta and Quentin Falk. They will discuss the film and its making. Quentin is well known to Festival-goers, and he has the distinction of having interviewed Graham Greene. His book, Travels in Greeneland: The Cinema of Graham Greene, is the bible of Greene’s Cinema. He is the film critic of the Catholic Herald. Richard Broke, the Producer of the film, will be present.

Cost: £8.

Friday 27 September

Talks at the Town Hall, Berkhamsted

Morning Session

9.30 Book launch: Graham Greene: the Swiss Chapter by Pierre Smolik.

How did Greene – cosmopolitan author, roguish adventurer, journalist and witness to the great world conflicts of his time – wind up on the gentle banks of Lake Geneva? He liked to be most where genuine change might take place, the fundamental upheaval. Hardly Switzerland. This new book covers the less well researched part of Greene’s life. There is much interest in the book in Switzerland and at the Swiss Embassy in London. Now the author, Pierre Smolik, and publisher, Patrick Moser, together with Alexander Harbaugh will introduce the book to us. Greta Scacchi, who stars in the film Dr Fischer of Geneva, has a place in this ‘Swiss chapter’, and she will be with us. This is an opportunity to acquire a significant first-edition together with autographs of the author, the film actress, and the Greene family. There will be a book signing after the talk, and the publishing team from Call me Edouard Editeurs | Publishers will be present all day to respond to interest.

10.15 Greene’s Magic places – a talk by Professor François Gallix

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Travels with my Priest: Greene’s Spanish trips, 1976–1989 by Professor Carlos Villar Flor

Cost: £12

Break for lunch.

Afternoon Session

2.15 The Heart of the Matter – the James Tait Black Novel of the Century? by Professor Randall Stevenson
In this last year he has been one of the panel of judges to pick the outstanding novel of the 20th Century from the annual winners of the James Tait Black Prize which is awarded by Edinburgh University and had been celebrating its 250th Anniversary. Greene’s The Heart of the Matter won the Prize in 1948, and was one of six novels selected for this Anniversary honour. We know now that it did not win, but Randall Stevenson will talk about the qualities of the novel that made it a finalist. (The film of the novel will be screened at 7.30 p.m.)

3.00 Discussion of the Novel and of the Qualities that might make for Greatness in a Novel. Panel: Professor Randall Stevenson, Mike Hill (former Festival Director), Professor Richard Greene of Toronto University. David Pearce will chair the discussion. There will be every opportunity for members of the audience to express views.

Break for tea and coffee

4.15 Greene and Israel by Frances Assa

Cost: £12

Evening Session at The Civic Centre

7.15 New Film – A Little Place off the Edgware Road

A16 minute big-screen adaptation by writer-director Tim Hewitt of a tale from the 21 Stories collection. A writer of crime fiction (Paul McGann) is suffering from writer’s block. Haunted by dreams of his wife and child, he seeks solace in a Hitchcock Festival at his local cinema as well as in regular sessions with his therapist. A disturbance outside his flat leads to a strange encounter, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Paul McGann and Ronald Pickup co-star in the film, which Tim Hewitt will introduce.

7.30 Film: The Heart of the Matter (1953) 
Director: George More O’Ferrall. Cast: Trevor Howard, Elizabeth Alan, Michael Hordern (who once lived in Berkhamsted), Denholm Elliott and Peter Finch.
The film will be introduced by Professor Neil Sinyard, Reader in Film Studies at the University of Hull, and well known to all Greene Festival-goers

Cost: £8

Saturday 28 September

Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School (Castle Street)

An exhibition of Greene’s Berkhamsted will be on show

Morning Session

10.00 ‘Memory cheats’: deception, recollection, and the problem of reading in The Captain and the Enemy by Dr Frances McCormack

Break for tea and coffee

11.30 Graham Greene’s writing: the theatre of the mind. ‘I write in the way that I do because I am what I am’ by Professor John Batchelor

Cost: £14

12.30: Sandwich lunch by courtesy of the Management of the Kings Arms Hotel

Early Afternoon Session

2.30 An American investigates Graham Greene’s Aversion to America by Professor Joyce Stavick

Creative Writing Awards presentation by Professor Joyce Stavick

Break for tea and coffee

3.45 ‘We Catholics are damned by our knowledge’ by The Revd. Dr Michael Bowie

Cost: £14

Late Afternoon Session

4.45 The Birthday Toast to Graham Greene

5.00 From Buenos Aires to Berkhamsted: a personal journey by Nicholas Shakespeare

Cost: £12

Evening Session

Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

7.30 Hot Buffet Dinner, with diversions

Four courses: soup, buffet beef/salmon, dessert, cheese wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of risotto and cheese
(Maximum number: 70. We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £33

Sunday 29 September

The Old Hall, Berkhamsted School

Early Morning Session

9.00 Tour of Greene’s School – the parts that Greene would have known – by David Pearce
There is no charge for this. Those coming should gather in the car park in front of Old Hall and beside the chapel

Break for tea and coffee

Morning Session

The VIth Form Centre – Upstairs from Old Hall

10.15 Insights into recent Greene research by Professor Richard Greene

11.00 ‘Green Shoots’ opportunities and a discussion about the structure of the 2014 Festival

11.30 The Overpowering Smell of Cooked Ham, a talk with film excerpts by Professor Neil Sinyard

Cost: £14

12.30 The Farewell Lunch in Old Hall 
Cold buffet meats, cheese, wine and coffee; or vegetarian option of a selection of quiches. (We need to know numbers by Thursday 19th September.)

Cost: £22

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