Night At The Cinema Museum 2
I think my taste has always been a bit suspect; I’ll quite happily watched terribly flawed films if they have an odd sensibility, but I cannot forgive poor writing. So my trash-aesthetic is a lower-set bar for films than books. Here are there remaining choices I made for the poor devils at the Cinema Museum, and dear Barry Forshaw, who had the ghastly task of interviewing me.
The first X certificate film I saw that wasn’t a horror film, but it now plays like a PG, although a lot of the saucier scenes were cut during production. A French comic strip is turned into an Italian film filled with fetishwear, Joan Greenwood’s voice is matched with Anita Pallenberg’s body, it’s unbelievable disjointed, and for some weird reason the hokey effects seem more interesting now than they did at the time. The film flopped at the time of release; it has a really odd claustrophobic atmosphere, but Fonda’s innocence shines through, the Matmos is fabulous, Duran-Duran gave us a band name, Terry Southern’s screenplay is delicious and everyone was influenced by the psychedelic visuals. Fonda turned down both ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ to make this. But perhaps it’s right that she did.
Two Northern girls hit London, rise to the top and crash. As the best swinging London film, this is a controversial choice over ‘Blow Up’ and ‘Performance’, I know, but it has a great score, a title sequence by Trog, and is filled with duck-walking dollybirds, helmet-haired hipsters and smarmy record-fixers who somehow capture London better, even though much of the comedy is cringe-inducing. Michael York’s photographer says’ I’m mad about yer boat-race, darlin’ and beats David Hemmings hands-down. Secondhand clothes dealer Irene Handl tells a customer ‘You’ve got to watch these teenagers. Turn your back on ‘em for a minute and a nice bit of skunk vanishes up their knickers.’ The gay waiters are voiced as queeny chipmunks, so nothing offensive there. But the film is full of surprising hidden tricks, too. If you put together all the surnames of the cast, you get most of the first verse of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’.
This was the first Fellini film I ever saw, one year in the life of a small Italian town. Fellini remembers his childhood and won an Oscar for it. I can’t think of a single film with more set pieces; the spring fires, the summer picnic with the mad uncle in a tree, the first snow that reveals a peacock, the ship in the night, the bull in the fog, the big-breasted newsagent, all life, love and death is here – and the scene where the liner passes is nine kinds of fabulous. Who but Fellini could get away with leaving the studio’s set scaffolding in the film’s most moving shot?
Like ‘The Exorcist’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ presents situations that are impossible for the young to fully grasp. Ira Levin wrote very few novels but every one was filmed, and they’re all about the same thing – betrayal. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is a thriller with a theme that you don’t really get at first. It isn’t about the baby at all but betrayal by the husband. Polanski’s big idea is simple; everyone has a price. I mean, everyone. Guy’s price is his career. But Rosemary has a price too; her motherhood. Its best moments are all the ominous ones. Elisha Cook Jr saying ‘that’s odd, this dresser didn’t use to be here.’ The meeting in the basement laundrette, the mousse that tastes funny, the scrabble board on the floor, Ruth Gordon’s prying intrusiveness, the eerie lullaby score – it feels saturated in darkness.
Harold And Maude
Harold is a rich, spoilt, suicide-staging teenager. Maude is a poor, life-affirming 79 year-old concentration camp survivor. To the horror of Harold’s society mother they fall in love. Harold’s mother arranges ghastly dates for him which he continually sabotages with acts of self-immolation and hari-kiri. The beautiful Cat Stevens soundtrack remains the most requested score of all time, but has never been officially released.
‘Would you like some liquorice?’ asks Maude, picking Harold up at a funeral where neither of them knew the deceased. ‘Do you stage these suicides for your mother’s benefit?’ asks Harold’s psychiatrist. ‘No,’ Harold replies softly. ‘I would not say ‘benefit’.’
When Maude announces that she is going, Harold tells her he loves her. ‘That’s good,’ she replies. ‘Go and love some more.’ I love the fact that Hal Ashby cuts Harold’s reaction to Maude’s news halfway through his shout. No director in their right mind would ever do that now. The stage version favoured whimsy – the film did not.
The Last Of Sheila
Forget the fact that this is simply the best whodunit ever filmed, it’s also one of the most cynical films ever made about Hollywood. Written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, and directed by Herbert Ross, it is peppered with real stars, James Mason, James Coburn, Raquel Welch, Dyanne Cannon, Ian Bannon and Richard Benjamin.
Coburn plays a hateful film producer who induces a group of failing movie industry celebs to attend a South of France trip on his yacht. They’ll play a murder game each night, but his real intention is to weed out the identity of his wife’s killer.
It’s so incredibly dense with witty dialogue and clues that you have to play it twice to catch all the references, plus the villain gets the most perfect come-uppance ever devised. It’s also filmed where I used to live in France, so – happy memories.
I’m a massive fan of Spanish thrillers. After Franco’s death they got better and better. Quite a few centre on the home, like ‘The Hidden Face’, ‘Penumbra’ and this – ‘Community’. It’s a special word in Barcelona. It refers to the purpose-built apartment buildings where all the neighbours know your business. The Spanish are a complicated people, private yet overflowing with community spirit, dour yet joyful, religious yet incredibly open-minded. In this film Carmen Maura is an estate agent who borrows clients’ flats behind their back, and discovers a clue to a fortune hidden in one – but the neighbours are watching her and each other, waiting to make a move. Director Alex de la Iglesia plays Hitchcock riffs and the film was a huge local hit, but apparently America and the UK lost out because one character infringes Star Wars copyright.
‘The Boy Friend’
This was my introduction to meta-film, Ken Russell’s multi-layered, backstabbing reinvention of a corny period musical that was old-fashioned when it was written and belies its shoestring cost. Clearly bored with the idea of filming it straight as a vehicle for Twiggy, Russell took a hatchet to it. The original was written in the fifties but set 30 years earlier, so Russell shifted it there, then placed it in a provincial theatre where everything that could possibly go wrong does, then added flash-forwards to its own Hollywood remake, but also blurred the lines between reality and fantasy by having the backstage characters lapse into dialogue from old Busby Berkeley movies. Finally he packed it with real British theatrical lore and superstition. ‘Let’s face it, darling,’ says Madame Dubonnet, ‘the closest you ever got to the West End was Harrow On The Hill.’ Friends still use catch-phrases from it, including ‘I’ll go and refund the money then, shall I?’ whenever we fail at something.
I had also picked out ‘Witchfinder General’, ‘Wait Until Dark’, ‘The Mercenaries’, ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Suspiria’, ‘Brazil’ and ‘Topsy Turvey’ as films that touched a chord or set off ideas for me. Mercifully for the audience, I called a halt at this point.