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Saturday 28 August 2010

This Island Rod

A recommendation - while googling for something else (I've forgotten what) I came across this film blog written by Roderick Heath, who describes himself somewhere as a film school dropout (I've forgotten where I saw that, too) and is based in Lithgow, New South Wales.

It's only been up for a couple of years but it's quite a body of work - I'm enjoying browsing through all the past entries and I thought you might, too. Heath's prose is entertaining and readable and he'll cover anything, no distinctions between high and low culture. Carnival of Souls is in there ("Herk Harvey’s solitary but celebrated midnight matinee masterpiece is an indelibly creepy no-budget work that could be called the film Ed Wood might have made if he'd had talent"), and his review of Jason and the Argonauts is one of the most insightful I've read. He basically writes about movies he likes, so the pieces tend to be snark-free and appreciative. I reckon you'd go a long way to find a more sympathetic analysis of The Abominable Doctor Phibes.

(Some of the links in his sidebar are worth following too - he also contributes to Ferdy on Films, where you'll find his appreciation of The Prisoner.)

Saturday 21 August 2010

Scribal Rites

The Wall Street Journal features this piece on how TV series writers have their own ways to achieve fulfilment and exact retribution. Most of the examples are more subtle than confrontational...
David Kohan (tells of how) comedian Elayne Boosler treated him so badly early in his career that he tried for years to get revenge. Finally, a character on his show "Boston Common" was stopped at the airport for making a wisecrack about a bomb. He said 'You're going to arrest me for telling a stupid joke? Then why don't you arrest Elayne Boosler?'
Some are more direct...
To writers, bringing actors down a notch is sweet revenge. Some love to tell the story of the time an actor uttered a familiar lament to Mr. Bochco, the producer: "My character would never say that."

Says Mr. Bochco: "I told him, 'Maybe your character wouldn't say that, but he's not your character, he's my character, and he's saying it right here." He pointed to the script.
For the rest of it, with stories from Desperate Housewives and The Sopranos, click here.

Friday 20 August 2010

Radio Daze

I've had a heads-up to say that BBC Radio 7 will be airing my 90-minute adaptation of Chimera in two slots this coming Sunday (August 22nd) and again the following day... click here for the scheduled times, if that appeals to you.

And, tying in with my Quiller post below, I notice that all this week the same station has been running a serialised reading of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male, and the reader is none other than Michael Jayston.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Of Girls, Swedes, and Dragon Tattoos

If you're interested and you get the chance, try to see Niels Arden Oplev's Swedish-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before you hear much more about the planned David Fincher remake. That first adaptation isn't a perfect movie by any means, but as screen mysteries go it's a very good one. A nicely paced Euro-thriller, crisply photographed, immaculately cast, with actors that are more fascinating than beautiful.

There's the thing... all credit to Fincher for keeping the story in its Swedish setting, but you only have to observe the casting process to get a sense of how the ground shifts when Hollywood reprocesses success. Gym-toned Daniel Craig in place of pie-fed Michael Nyqvist (if Nyqvist ever set foot in a gym, he was probably there to install the carpets), age-defying Robin Wright for ageing-gracefully Lena Endre... I've never seen Rooney Mara (Fincher's choice for Lisbeth Salander) in action, but by her stills she's more pretty than she is odd.

(And by the way, that rich old guy at the beginning of Oplev's movie... that's Sven Bertil-Taube, that is, powerboat hero of 1971's Puppet on a Chain.)

Fincher will most likely do good work but there's definitely something in the original that you're never gonna get. The cinematic equivalent of a fine Continental beer that's 'brewed under license in the UK'. The Swedish film is an indie movie with a commercial aesthetic; Hollywood is going about its version in the only way it knows how, infusing a commercial film with an indie vibe. If you want to taste the original, then now's the time. It won't taste the same later.

I cannot, alas, be quite so positive about Daniel Alfredson's follow-up movie The Girl Who Played with Fire; most of the cast and the production standards are the same, but the material is decidedly inferior. Nice poster art, though.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Quiller and Quiller Again

Last night, in a collision of whim and a weekend sale by the good folk at Network DVD, I watched The Quiller Memorandum for the first time in a number of years.

(Pause for a quick shout-out to my daughter Ellen, singing at the Bloodstock festival today with the band Neonfly. Check out the site - it looks like a great event and the band names alone are worth the visit.)

The movie's one of those big-budget, widescreen, sober-faced cold-war spy thrillers of the 1960s. The best of them was probably The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the most entertaining The Ipcress File. I knew there was something about Quiller that gave it some special place in my affections, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what.

Now I know. It wasn't the story, which is well-shaped enough but thinly-spread and improbable, and mostly rigged to deliver a final act in which Our Hero wanders empty streets while the Bad Guys shadow him in plain sight, daring him to make a move. Nor was it Harold Pinter's dialogue - I'll happily concede that Pinter was a theatrical genius but a very little of that mannered non-sequitur stuff goes a long way with me.

No, the two main elements responsible for the film's hold on my heart are its brilliant use of '60s West Berlin locations, and its John Barry score. There some incidental pleasures as well - Alec Guinness as Quiller's spymaster, conjuring a memorable character out of thin air before your eyes, and a neat improvised escape with a bomb sliding its way down the vibrating bonnet of an idling car - but the narrative isn't one of them. You pretty much have to tune out of the story's logic in order to enjoy what it lays before you.

If I had to describe it I'd have to say it's a bunch of top-notch actors doing the kind of things they do in spy films, in a package that's professionally executed. What the movie lacks in soul, West Berlin and John Barry supply.

Though he does an adequate job in the lead, George Segal has been better elsewhere; not least in Bryan Forbes' King Rat. For me the preferred Quiller has always been Michael Jayston; though the 70s series suffered from the usual BBC studio-cheapness and many of the episodes are now lost, Jayston (with whom I later got to work when he took the lead in An Alternative to Suicide) was the man.

Monday 2 August 2010

Of Prams and Hallways

In today's Guardian Frank Cottrell Boyce takes on Cyril Connolly's much-quoted assertion that "there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway".

The piece is accompanied by a picture of J G Ballard and his three small children, raised single-handedly after the death of his wife at a young age. The image is rebuttal enough on its own. Although I suppose, in a spirit of cruelty, you could further counterpoint it with a list of Connolly's literary achievements.

(But that's an easy shot. I wouldn't want to see mine set against Ballard's, either.)

The pram in the hallway is merely a handy excuse for mediocrity. Your children, on the other hand, are a wonderful source of startling ideas and unexpected insights, and they can't sue when you steal.