Sunday, 19 December 2010

OLDER HOUSES (John Hinckley, 1987)

A young man visits a childhood home.

'Crossing the road with several other people. The house where we lived between 8 and 14 is here, on a busy main road. In my dream, I know that we have sold part of the house to a young family, and that they will eventually have it all. This is simultaneously a recent event and from twenty years ago.

I retain hope that we can have the house back at some point. I walk up the driveway and meet the grandfather, a rugged Hemingway-a-like with soft eyes and a slight shyness. He is surrounded by playing children. He knows who I am, and upon seeing my excitement at seeing my old house becomes momentarily defensive. It is as if just a moment before he had been relaxed and playing, but now his friendliness is slightly forced. He invites me in, and in the hallway I see the father, who says hello shyly, but certainly with more warmth. He is red-headed and slim. He shows me around, tells me how much they love the place. Every improvement I notice that they have made causes him to point out great things we left behind, as if he doesn't want to upset my memory. I can already see that my idea that part of the house is still ours is misguided, as they have filled or redecorated every room I see. The father makes noises about how I can stay whenever I like for as long as I like, as it is still my house, but through his sweetness I can see that this makes him uncomfortable, and although I'm convinced of the genuineness of the offer, I know that he'd rather I go. We walk through the long kitchen, and I can see the changes we made, like putting the sink by the back window, have already gone.

We walk into the back garden, where I notice the neighbour's house has been changed, from a neat large semi-detached brick house into something huge and somehow scary; much has been cutaway, leaving a large carport area, and the back lawn has been carved into rutted roads. They have some kind of business there. I reminisce aloud about kicking footballs over the fence and sneaking into the allotments to retrieve them, and the man laughs politely.

Then the mother emerges from the house. She is red-headed too, curvy, and wearing a purple velvet dressing gown. She doesn't appear to recognise me, and her demeanour is dreamy and confused, as if she is sick or drunk. The grandfather shepherds the children inside sadly, and this alerts me to a family politic I cannot identify. I tell the woman who I am, and she smiles as if to say 'of course I knew'. She starts talking about how much she loves the house and how beautiful she remembers my mother and family being, before drifting off into elliptical reveries that make little sense. I sense that while the men in the family love her dearly, they are somewhat embarrassed of her, as her conduct is not quiet, but I sense her frustrations with this and sympathise silently. She excitedly tells me about a game she plays on her computer, and that I should play it on mine. She gives a full account of her scores and statistics, assuring me that it is impressive. She looks at me, lingeringly, and I look away, but then look back again an hold the stare. Words are jumbled, but a message skims through, as if telepathically: She likes me. She is sorry they took our house. It is OK, I attempt to communicate. It is silly of me to want something back that is really theirs now. It dawns on me that the house is gone, and that I am happy that nice people have it. Through her distant daze, the woman somehow understands this far more intuitively than anyone else.

I follow her to an unrecognized part of the house, a darkened ground floor bedroom that I'm convinced doesn't exist; this also helps me to feel that it is hidden somehow, and safe. She pulls me onto the bed into a long embrace.'

Older Houses Directed by John Hinckley Produced by John Hinckley Written by John Hinckley Starring James Horston, Sam Nicholas, Lou Longshoot, Bob Fields St Nic Films 65 mins Release date UK: Sept 1987. Tagline: None.

Friday, 3 December 2010

DYSLEXIC FRENCH RED; NE'ER DO WELL (5) (Simone Tzerkovska, 1954)

...the awkward title being a cryptic crossword clue that the heroine is stumped by momentarily at the action's crucial point; an oversight, a slip, as she is something of a black belt in games of linguistics. She can read the black and white shapes in the puzzle corner of the well-thumbed daily rag left on a train carriage seat and know if she's seen it before. She can pass her hand over the clues like braille (an affectation; but it does seem to help her concentrate) and collect half of the answers in one sweep, returning to fill in enjoyable details subsequently. She likes to picture the word grid as a house that she has to clean or illuminate, and each answer, despite being in black or blue ink, is actually removing dark dust from the far flung corners. Large words please her; but more rewarding are the three-letter nuggets to be dug out of the corners, the tricky acronyms and abbreviations, little globs of adhesive.

Off the page her movements are dreamy and vague. Her observations of what is happening slow, and cars will honk at her daily as she wanders across busy streets, chasing code in her head and rearranging alphabets. Her husband calls it 'taking inventory', as it looks like she is internally tallying wherever she goes. He laughs about it by day, and visits other women at night.

This night they make a date: A movie. A throwback to their younger romance, and the effort they make to dress and have fun saddens them both, but they try not to show it. They take a cab, line up for tickets, smile sweetly at one another; he holds the door for her, and she almost laughs. They imitate themselves so well that she is disoriented.

The film begins, and they hold hands, even when it becomes uncomfortable. They check each other's reaction regularly at first, and then settle in. She is pleased at the neatness with which Ernest Borgnine's (or Humphrey Bogart's, or Robert Ryan's; she isn't sure which) dilemma is set-up on screen, the clean moves of the plot containing an elegance. But soon this pleasure recedes, and an uneasy quiet grows in her. Her husband is engrossed, so kissing his arm, she gently unhooks herself and heads to the bathroom to calm herself with a crossword.

She knows, at the moment that the word ROGUE evades her (an easy one, an open goal), that something is wrong. She looks up at the cubicle door and listens. Nothing. She slowly leaves, washes her hands, and looks in the mirror. Her face is hers alright, but a look in the eyes seems to serve as a warning that she cannot quite read. She recites clues in her head (4D: Sunken female?: THE LADY IN THE LAKE, 13A:(intersecting; third letter must be D) Repetitive ritualistic behaviours: OCD), and the look fades. She still suspects her reflection is tricking her, however.

She wants to head back to the movie, but can't. Her husband, handsome and sensitive tonight, now horrifies her.

Minutes pass, hinging on her lack of cutting edge in discovering another answer, one that pivots from THE LADY IN THE LAKE (from the tip of LADY, ending at the the L, which itself is a scissor shape): 'Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke'. She knows, instantly, that 'very sad' yields the definition, that the word will be sombre. 'Unfinished story' suggests, obviously, an incomplete word which houses the 'rising smoke' part. But here her brain apes the clue and itself seems to move upwards, rising from the clean bottom corners of her puzzle to the top, and then further, off the page and into the middle distance. It hovers in mid-air, vaguely aware of an alarm bell somewhere, in another room.

Her face looks reversed in the mirror; she thinks of the lopsided weather vane on the roof of her house whose arrow always points down towards their bedroom, accusingly. A knowledge evades her slightly, but she searches for it. But there it is: she realises she is going to leave the theater and go home. And then she already is, walking across the lobby with purpose. But something stops her at the door: an answer.

TRAGICAL. Of course. The obvious solution makes her laugh: The rising smoke is a cigar, and it runs backwards up the page, clothed in TAL; which is almost TALE, and thus an unfinished story. It takes minutes, but order is restored. She decides to return to her seat, hold his hand and pay attention to the film. She does not know that her husband is gone, vanished in the interim, already in a cab across town, dreaming of flights to carefree territories. Or that the night was an opportunist performance, and that when she finally goes home, with some kind of awareness dawning, she will find a house shorn of every sign that he was ever there.

Dyslexic French Red; Ne'er Do Well (5) Directed by Simone Tzerkovska Produced by Dexter Hunstler Written by Victor Joi Starring Elizabeth Tizla, Hanz Janck Czech Film/CBK 104 Mins Release Date UK: Oct 1956/US: Oct 1956 Tagline: none.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

PLAYED YOUR EYES (Jim Hertz-Tanning, 2006)

The following is an extract from an article written by the director Jim Hertz-Tanning in The Guardian, on Saturday 28 October 2006:

'I am overjoyed to discover that my latest film, Played Your Eyes (a catchy and fashionable title) was released at the end of September in a deluxe 2-disc DVD package by Warner Brothers. It is a bargain at £25.99, for over four hours of movie plus out-takes and trailers. How do I know? Amazon have emailed any of its customers who previously bought my films on DVD. The world's largest online retailer is offering a persuasive 'Unique Price' discount. The truly impecunious, it suggests, can wait until September 2007 when, evidently, Played Your Eyes comes out in a humbler package, stripped of extras, at £15.99.

During that time, no doubt, the film will have been entered for prizes, presented at festivals and will have attracted the usual batch of mixed reviews, including the customary splenetic rebuff from the Daily Mail's Chris Tookey.

During the few minutes it took me to access Played Your Eyes' details on Amazon's web pages, the movie's sales rank jumped from 70,301 to 69,844. It jumped another 60,000 places when I submitted my own order. Sadly, sales have tailed off a bit in the last few days - down to 219,986 at the last check. Maybe Amazon have sold out and Warner Brothers are reprinting. But my DVD must be on its way by now. As the named writer, director and producer of Played Your Eyes, I'm looking forward to my first sight of it.

The only hitch is that Played Your Eyes is a phantom film - and its not even a phantom of my own creation. I have in the past acquired a reputation for crediting non-existent actors, writers and sources, and for placing fictional figures in biopics: My first three films (Seven Bridges of Königsberg (1997), The Suslin Operation (1999), and Sham Epigraphs (2002) were all 'remakes' of works by non-existent foreign filmmakers, Georgis Fickl-Adonis, Gustav Stuck and Sir Maxi Beardsley.

It always cheered me up when my films were badly received to learn that the scholarly critic was nevertheless more than familiar with the works on which they were based, and even favoured the originals. The Los Angeles Times informed me that Fickl-Adonis was "the premier German-Greek film-stylist", while Total Film, as you'd expect, considered his work to be "arcane and irksomely septimal". The Washington Post judged Stuck to be "a sadly neglected amorist, film-maker and photographer" and the New York Times swallowed "the real archaeologist, movie-mogul and bon-vivant Sir Maxi Beardsley" hook, line and sinker. Even Frank Kermode (in this paper) fell for "Max" (evidently believing that as a fellow knight he could abandon formality and drop the "Sir"). It was only after I succeeded in seeing reviews of the non-existent Beardsley's non-existent canon in Movie Hound 2006, The Guinness Film Bible 2006 and Time Out's History of Film 2007 (the latter giving Utter Hinten a three-star review, and decrying its 'gorgeous but dreary sunsets' as 'uglier than Beardsley's more substantial films') that I decided critics were too easy game and that I should direct my mischief elsewhere. But Played Your Eyes is not another of my spoofs. It's little more than a slip of the tongue.

I do have a new film in the wings. It is called Plagiarize but it won't be released until next March and by EM Media and Film Four rather than Warner Brothers, who held the rights to the original script. It's set in an ancient future and is an inquiry into our relationship with originality and art. When Warner Brothers contracted about the script a few years ago, I had not yet decided on a title. But the first line of dialogue was going to be "I Plagiarize." It was convenient to use that as a working designation. Nobody would know or care except me and my co-writers.

Now we are in the world of guesswork. When the film was "announced" all those years ago, someone at Warner couldn't type, possibly, or someone at Amazon was hard of hearing. "Plagiarize" became "Played Your Eyes", an amusing error. But an error with a life of its own. The Amazon computer sucked the information in, fleshed it out, nurtured it, gave it provenance. It was for me a disconcerting error too, because while we were writing Plagiarize I became overly self-conscious about upsetting the art world in this timid, post-art climate. I pulled my punches a bit. There was the script we wrote, and there was the more discourteous script we might have written had I been more thick-skinned. Played Your Eyes would have been its perfect, hazy title, with its visual and game-playing suggestiveness (like a near-invisible sight-gag, the poster haunts the back of my eyelids to this day). The Amazon computer knew that, of course, and must have simply completed the film that I was too pusillanimous to attempt.

Is this the future? It certainly might indicate a grim future for cinema, one in which the pigmies - independent theatres and discerning video-rental spots- are finally edged out of business by the computer-driven amazonians that cannot discriminate between hard copy and a slip of the tongue. Anyway, Played Your Eyes, complete with its own barcode number, is now available for purchase. I am almost certain that not a frame of it exists. Order your copy, while stocks last.'

Played Your Eyes does not exist. Plagiarize was releasd in the UK in August 2007.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Hero: A matinee idol, a super man. Jet-black hair glows blue. Eye-mask doesn't protect his identity, it is his identity, and without it, he is an anonymous citizen. Portrayed by loved strongman Rockmond Beach, his adventures are recounted to us in an episodic format, similar to many from the time; his invulnerability is evident, always. He reminisces, from the comfort of comfort, about the victories that keep the city safe. His protection of the populace is so complete that he enjoys finding ways to bring that very public into the action as unwitting accomplices; stunning a thug so that he falls into the path of a bystander, who bemused, collars the cad, and so forth.

Fashion shoots for local department stores, modelling swimwear. Radio spots, multiple public appearances, weight gain. Complacency sets in. His senses are dulled to such an extent that the doubts collecting in the distance, the ones that would be spotted by a normal person, are almost invisible, a distant mist.

Scene: Hero, in everyday disguise (sports coat, fedora), enters large and busy supermarket, unaware of a crucial detail: He has been shot with a tranquilizer dart that will very soon begin to cause him to panic and lose control. Villain knows he only has to wait; fire alarm or similar will cause an anxious riot in the building. Doors will lock, crowds will push, and the hero will be trapped. We follow the hero, unable to tell him that firstly his secret identity will be exposed when he loses consciousness, and secondly that the villain already must know his secret identity, or suspect it enough to shoot him with a dart.

('The hero is preoccupied with a dream he keeps having: 'Killer plants. A fairly generic villainous plot: vines, warehouses, the discovery of an antidote that is far too minor to be effective. The plants evolve to fire razor sharp leaves at scientists. I leave, and take a tram, sometimes a bus, into town. (Which town? I don't know... an ersatz London, but it feels American; the layout of the train stations feels like Berlin, but no. Must locate.) I have to change at the next stop to get the returning vehicle, as I'm going the wrong way. I pretend I meant to do this, because after all, this is a town I know; others do the same. They follow me out of duty and expectation. Why?')

It plays out according to certain conventions: Panic grows, artfully; hero fights crowds, clothes, looking for a breath; riot escalates... and just at the point at which the hero seems to have regained some semblance of control over his powers, right when that the smoke or water has cleared (or at least seems behind him, or assailable) and he is close to a rear door, and to air and escape... just then the villain breaks a window, leans in, and pulls our hero out, like low hanging fruit; as he could have, the feeling goes, at any point in the last ten minutes. Hope turns into helplessness, and ultimately the former seems pathetic; hindsight casts an embarrassing pall on the way our brain tried to push the hero to awareness, and to strength, and to safety.

(He hears a tannoy announcement, among the panic, for a man by the name of Steve Wilson. As he is dragged into sleep, he tries to place that name; it is one he is sure has, at some time, been correctly attached, in his head, to a face. Steve Wilson, Steve Wilson... he holds the label aloft, turns it around.... No sli we vets, we've still son... and then someone presents the face to him, from nowhere: Steve Wilson is his name, his alter-ego, his cover. As he falls asleep, he tries to forget the name, like a child closing his eyes to hide from the world.)

And then, later, a different helpless: In an upper room of a house, a machine gun in hand. We are with him, and he has somehow begun an escape. He hides in a corner as a group of goons lean in and shoot and smirk. The feeling is that these are the first of many, and like baddies on an early level of an endlessly regenerating computer game, by no means the toughest. We should get past these guys, and onto bigger challenges, but somehow we cannot get into a position to shoot them. The fear grows that our journey out may never even begin, and that we may even have to contemplate the absurdity of dying in this small room.

The Squeezing Of A Benevolent Ventricle Should Suffice Directed by Sty Statula Produced by Lex Loveless, Pal True Starring Rockmond Beach, Tweet Van Smith, Lola Finn Written by Tex Lewis RKO/ARCO Pictures Release Date US: May 1932/ UK: Oct 1933 Tagline 'Oh No!'

Monday, 8 November 2010


'If her body of work offers service as a miscellany of possibility, then her body works as a miscellany of possible services' Norman Mailer

'The theory of Six Degrees of Separation slims down to three or four degrees with Polly Ventuno. If you don't know her, you know no-one. If you know her, you know everybody.' Gore Vidal

'How do I describe her? Two parts Sophia Loren. One part Gilles Deleuze. One part Russ Meyer Supervixen. One part Steve Reeves. One part Lucille Ball. One part Arthur Scargill. And perhaps another part Sophia Loren, just so her gorgeousness doesn't get diluted.' Germaine Greer

Polly Ventuno, better known as Polly Twenty-One, has amassed a startling array of film credits over the course of a long and langorous career. She has been an exotic starlet, a camp fetish object, an intellectual, an avant-guardian, an activist, and famously, 'too beautiful to be a plausible'. That is the name of the documentary which attempts to cram into ninety-four minutes many lifetimes. It lingers on the scuffles (when she slapped Lee Majors on live television; when she called Ali McGraw a 'fembot of self-loathing'), but fails to do justice to the mind-boggling list of credits on her film CV. Impossible as it is to cover it all, I feel this should be rectified somewhat, and have chosen to pick out some of the highlights from a career that spans nearly seventy years. The total number of pictures are innumerable: 'one stops counting at five-hundred, my dear. And you should too. It's only polite,' says Polly herself in the documentary.

In many ways, Polly has had the perfect career; for her happiness, anyway. 'I have been in so many terrible movies that I am unsinkable' she claims, and while this is a touch severe, there are enough blemishes, such as Josh Kosloff's risible Tip-Toe (1983, in which Rutger Hauer enters the Stealth World Championships), and Don Invigilator's dreary Space Hub (1954, space opera, plot long forgotten) to offer question marks. That she has endured unscathed may suggest something quite simple: that she has been castable, versatile and well just plain good enough times to stay lovable. Considering her genesis as 'ze most bootiful womans in ze hull whirld' (as Orson Welles famously jibed, gently mocking Polly's swirling vowels), and the precariousness of such a position, this is worth celebrating.

It was Welles who gave her a start, in his myth-assaulting Bellerophon (1943), and if her role in this, Sam Fuller's bone-hard war flick The Bejesus! (1951) and Welles' own Non Quixote (1952) revolved around little more than her ample charms, she was wonderful in all. A lead role in Roger Corman's Oskar Minimal (1957), as the lonely wife of a shrinking scientist showed that she really had the chops, and a part in Douglas Sirk's Cashmere Perfection was to follow, Polly's shadowboxing scene with Tab Hunter the most memorable moment in the box office smash of summer 1960.

She brilliantly avoided megastardom at this point, taking roles in campy dreck and small independent projects, apparently at whim. Straddling both was Return To Zembla from 1968. Boob-house legend Russ Meyer made this as a sequel to Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire. In the novel, our narrator, Charles Kinbote, who claims to be an exiled king from the country of Zembla, provides radically mistaken commentary on a poem by poet John Shade, claiming the poem to be about himself, and his journey from Zembla. We slowly become aware not only of Kinbote's delusions, but of his contribution to Shade's death. Return To Zembla sees Kinbote (Kurt Just) struggling back through the wilderness of a post-hippy America, running into busty flower children everywhere. Polly plays a visionary femme whose dreams of Zembla fit Kinbote's descriptions, and who helps the hero on his journey home. He doesn't get there; they rut endlessly.

The iconic roles continued: In Bob Fosse's electric Manhattan-set Alice in Wunderland (1977), Polly played the Queen of Hearts in a disco-fuelled re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's yarn. Memorable choreography and turns from an eccentric cast, including Fosse himself (The Mad Hatter), James Caan (the Cheshire Cat), Richard Pryor (the Black Rabbit, running to a meeting with his dealer), Donna Summer (The Duchess) and Pat Benatar (the Dormouse) mean this is an endlessly watchable slice of nonsense.

And on and on; whenever she seemed certain to fade into poor television and straight-to-video purgatory, up she would pop in something bold and deviant, like Abel Ferrera's kinetic Segue (1990, alongside William Burroughs as a shotgun-toting bus driver) or Claude Chabrol's deft suppression-of-story undrama Subtext (1995). These proved she still had legs and wit. The argument that she might have been a 'great' actress with different choices is moot, especially when you consider how good she is in so many things. Even when she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1982 for her role in Harold Ramis' A Confederacy of Dunces, she refused to take herself seriously. 'One felt all along, that we were playing a game that Polly wanted no part in. That was charming and quite something.' said Leslie Ann Warren, a fellow nominee that year. Or as critic Giles Hunter puts it: 'Polly is among the most gifted and prolific actresses of any generation, but her name is nowhere to be found on any awards list; not, I would venture, because she fails to live up to the ceremonies' implicit criterion of importance, but because she steadfastly refuses to try.'

Too Beautiful To Be Plausible: The Tale of Polly 21 Directed by Lucy Fedoro, Produced by Lucy Fedoro, Jeff Lynch Starring Polly Ventuno, Norman Mailer, Lee Majors, Germaine Greer, Joan Rivers, Gore Vidal Ultimo/Gossard Productions 94 mins Release Date UK/US: Nov 2006 Tagline: 'You Know Her. You Don't. You Love Her. You Should.'

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Serge Grebiot died this week, to little fanfare. The deaths of fellow French filmmakers Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol this year were rightly mourned and their lives celebrated, as two quite different men who produced worthy art up to their deaths. Grebiot lacked their consistency, for sure, and perhaps more precisely, their desire to make films (his last completed effort was 1997's How To Make An American Quit, a lazy and outdated jingoistic diatribe, displaying, finally, his complete loss of ju-ju), but when his powers were firing, most notably between 1968 and 1973, the art he offered could stand toe-to-toe with almost anyone.

One reason for his annexing from the canon could be that he was a Frenchman who made films in Germany, thus falling between the cracks of two national cinemas in various stages of revolt and reform. Young France had enough angry philosophers in-situ. Young Germans on the other hand, wanted to wipe out the old guard, in their desire to make a hopeful new statement about their forlorn nation. But this also meant a rejection of outside influences too; they could not mimic the stylings of American or British idioms such as rock'n'roll, pop, nor the strong-armed glamour of dizzy Hollywood. Same went for anybody else. Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, Kraftwerk, Can and Neu, all flying on the fumes of '68, painted new future possibilities, built new roads, distinctly German but not stiflingly so.

Serge Grebiot; Die Französisch Deutsch ('The French German') was born in Montpellier, joined the resistance as a teen to subvert the Nazis, and was subsequently stationed in Frankfurt as the Allies carved up the corpse of a land. Grebiot stayed, fell in love with a German girl, and made movies. It was a deeply unfashionable place to be making art in the late fifties; whereas Grebiot's countrymen were harvesting international acclaim with chic new-wave manouvres, Germany had yet to find her post-war feet, and as such much of the art produced was samey and fearful. 'Remember; we could not sweep away all of the Nazis; we still needed school teachers and policemen and judges. Many witnesses to atrocities were still in power. As such, most art tried to ignore the past quietly, and was thus beleagured and anodyne.' said Uschi Obermaier, model, activist and member of freeform radicals Amon Duul.

Grebiot, as an outsider, was freed from this compulsion toward self-invention, but also humbled and challenged by it. As such, his films can be seen as definitively German at times, in much the same way that it took immigrant talent (von Sternberg, Chaplin, Garbo, Dietrich, Wilder, Lang, Ophuls, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) to define Hollywood in the first half of the 20th Century.

Nie Für Den Bus Laufen (1) was dubbed 'Hausfrau Noir' (the delicious mangling of two languages in the phrase a doff of the chapeau/kappe to Grebiot), and it rings true; the noir is there in the sharp silhouettes on-screen, which carry echoes of the Weimar gargoyles that went by boat to Hollywood and paired with a hard-boiled and pulpy American sensibility. Here, Grebiot reinherits the stylings, refurnished as they are with various detective-in-morally-complicated-waters motifs, and ties them, incredibly, to a one-room drama about a working class household in Frankfurt. Instead of a weary but smart Sam Spade, we have mother of four Irma (Betty Schneider), whose tired demeanour betrays a domicile at the end of its tether (a 'digs' in a hole, if you will, or an abode of corrode, or a crashed pad, even a dwelling of dwelling (2)). Her husband is absent, presumed dead, and the action (or lack thereof) centres on Irma's quiet inquisition of her children, who, it seems, are purpetrators of various minor misdeeds such as being messy and drinking all of the milk.

Grebiot centres on such mundane details that the viewer is thrown; Irma seems like normal mother and simultaneously insane, and the way in which the regular seems irregular (the checkerboard territories of the tablecloth, the luminous whiteness of the plates, the endlessly held stares of the children) offers a Realism/Realisn't duality of a Beckettian lean. The narrative, in which she slowly pulls out clues and jumps on hunches, spins like Chandler in a kitchen-out-of-sync. And the conclusions Irma draws about the slack moralities of her own generation and the potential of her children is equally hopeless and angry. This was taken as a harsh indictment of his adopted country, but Grebiot refuted this at the time. 'I do not speak of Germany. I speak of the world.' (3)

Immer für den Bus überfahren, Nein, Nie für den Bus laufen Directed by Serge Grebiot Produced by Karl Stuch Written by Max Friedl, Serge Grebiot Starring Betty Schneider, Patty Ernst, Lukas Fricker, Tomas Fricker, Roland Schneider Futurefilm/Octocinema Productions Release date UK: Oct 1970/ US: Nov 1971 88 mins Tagline:'Mutter Weiß Gut' ('Mother Knows Best')

1. The full title of the film was Immer für den Bus überfahren, Nein, Nie für den Bus laufen, translated as 'Always Run For The Bus, No, Never Run For The Bus', apparently to reflect Irma's indecisive nature, for their are no buses mentioned in the film. She betrays a confusion over the correct punishment for her children, or even whether they merit punishment, and speaks frequently with a muddled folksy wisdom. Even if we do not hear her say these words, we imagine them in her voice.

2. Such inane punning and repetition to diminishing effect (the lines above were especially selected to illicit annoyance and groans; that is why such crackers as 'crib of glib fibs' and 'grovel hovel' were deliberately hidden out of plain view in a footnote.) is relevant. As Irma grills the kids, she constantly clicks from accusation to apology and back, each time trying to cover her anger with humour and her sadness with a joke. Her lines are filled with many desperate jokes that are meaningless to an English speaking audience, including refences to German Shibboleths used during wartime to oust non-native spies.

3. Cahiers Du Cinema, March 1971.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

" " (Alex Goochy, 2004)

The name of this film is- . Or " ". Or " "(italics mine) That is, it is nothing, or it is a space. The studio backers (Warner Brothers, in the first hand, Dreamworks, the second; finally Columbia in a split the difference we-may-aswell-all-be-in-on-the-gag gesture) might call it The Film With No Name, The Film Without A Name, or Untitled, but all are problematic (not in the least because they have all been used before, attached to poor films and thus stained with failure), and were all heavily opposed by the director Alex Goochy.1

'These are all titles,' said Goochy in 2004. 'I wanted no title at all. It is complicated, but it is related to the idea that in naming something, and this is Eastern Philosophy now... in naming it, you're maiming it; you know it, and contain it. Titling a film, while making sense in many ways, completely finishes it in another. I wanted space for the film to fluctuate and shimmer under the glance of the world like a new species of plant we have just discovered but did not have a word for... or a constellation that may not be the brightest, or the most delirious formation, but holds the interest all the same.... because there is no name to rope the distant stars together' 2

The compromise involved using punctuation: floating quotation marks like this: " ", with, a space in-between, described by Harold Bloom as 'a symbolically hollow center'. He went on, and we should not stop him before he gets into his stride: 'The fact that the quotation marks hover on the billboards and marquees like air quotes made with fingers at dinner parties just makes the whole exercise seem even more damnable; these four separate swords of damocles hanging in two menacing pairs (like smug buddy cops on patrol a block apart), ready to catch us all. And we deserve it.'

Some at Warner/Dreamworks/Columbia, in honour of the unutterable title (or lack thereof) took to calling the film 'Ingooglable Basterd', and even leaked mocked-up posters with this title. The working title was 'Working Title', and this was replaced by 'Untitled Project', and some suggested a return to those prototypes. They called on Vikram Slinki, a friend of Goochy's, to mediate. Slinki, of course, is a a director who switches the titles of his films so as to change expectations; but at least he uses titles. A horror film that purports to be a romance is more shocking,' he said of his Lovely Tuscan Dreams (1999). Slinki suggested that Goochy go the route of their mutual acquaintance Phil 'Bill' Smith, who labels his films precisely. The problem being that Smith's films, including Morose Family Drama With Motown Scene (and Cancer) (1995), Verbose Smug New York Comedy with Unlikeable Protagonist (1996) and What Do you Mean The Girlfriend Did It? (Fake Dream Ending) (1997) all failed to find any kind of distribution at all.3

Goochy, provocateur, art-terrorist, anti-activist, settled for nothing less than nothing. She even suggested empty quotes next to the names of newspapers, her examples being: '" " says The LA Times. The New York Post raves, saying " " about " ", whereas the New Yorker was speechless.' The unofficial poster containing these words and un-words even hung in New York briefly, until the various publications named threatened litigation on the basis that they hadn't said anything or not said anything or even said nothing about " ", on account of the fact that they had not seen " ", and if a party can be unquoted (and have those lack of words presented as if ithey had been uttered or unuttered) about something about which one knows nothing of, well...where does it end?

Where indeed.

A question: Is " " any good? Nah. What happens in the film? Oh, nothing of consequence. Girl meets gun. Girl falls for gun. Girl kills gun. Mildy erotic thriller with epilectic subplot and brain-freeze editing. De Palma on ice, or Eszterhas on mildly tasteful sedatives.

" " Directed by Alex Goochy Produced by Alex Goochy Alex Cox Leroy Smith Written by Joseph Hand Starring SaraJo Belling, Thomas Gunter Warner/Dreamworks/Columbia Release Date US: Oct 2004 UK: Jan 2005 121 mins Tagline: None.

1. Alex Goochy, is in fact not the real name of the director. Born in the Ukraine, she moved to LA aged 23 in 1985, where she has directed many independent features under various awful pseudonyms, including Sue Denim, Biff Bangpow, and Martin Scoreswayze (although not, as suspected 'Bryan Diploma'. When the film Carry (Bryan Diploma, 1999) was released, Goochy was a suspect, but it emerged that Brian De Palma was responsible for this low-budget tribute to his own Carrie, in spoof tribute to Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot Psycho remake (1997) and Claude Chabrol's shot-for-shot The Man Who Knew Too Much (1997) (Hitchcock's 1956 version being the one copied, which itself was a remake of Hitch's own 1934 original of course).
2. Cineaste interview, Summer 2004.
3. A Film, Literally (2007) was on display at MoMA for some time in 2008.

Saturday, 2 October 2010


'And so dreams tell stories, many stories. I am writing a story, if it could so be called, about the Mary Celeste. I am painting scenes from the story I'm writing. And I am dreaming about the Mary Celeste, the dreams feeding back into my writing and painting. A burst of fresh narrative: the Celestial Babies and the Azore Islands... digression and parentheses, other data seemingly unrelated to the saga of the Mary Celeste, now another flash of story... a long parenthesis. Stop. Change. Start. Should I tidy up, put things in rational sequential order? Mary Celeste data together? Flying dreams together? Land of the Dead dreams together? Packing dreams together? To do so would involve a return to the untenable position of an omniscient observer in a timeless vacuum. But the observer is observing other data, associations flashing backward and forward.' William Burroughs

'Lancaster's writing is shorn of all allusion; it lacks the melange of tastes present in even the most mediocre of fiction; when speaking of faraway places he conjures them as if by magic, with a complete lack of vision; and somehow (much like a politician whose inarticulacy speaks to some people of an honesty (as if only the literate can lie or steal)) this only seems to say to a large strand of the public that this mean speaks the truth. This paradox has contributed to him being one of the richest floggers of text in the tongue.' William Deresiewicz

'Give me credit for my dreams.' John Lancaster

'He was a man who wrote about how he had done what he had not done as if he had done. Then we found out that what he had done was not what he had said he had done and that what he had said he had done he had not done. Embarrassed, he set out to do exactly what he had said he had done exactly as he had said he had done it.' Tagline from 'Friggin' In The Riggin'' poster.

.... except now he was old, and ashamed, and the world had turned against him. John Lancaster had had it all except literary kudos. But so what? He was a successful author, a diarist of his own real-life seafaring adventures, who despite completely lacking critical adoration had something else, a kind of macho integrity; a streetwise candour carrying with it the weight of a stout-bellied but strong-armed silhouette of, if you squinted, a low-rent Hemingway. Even his lack of style was seen as evidence of his honesty; a fancier hand and a more delicate turn of phrase might suggest a piano-fingered intellectual, rather than the stubbier and tougher digits of this oaken presence (Oaken Presence incidentally being the name of his fifteenth book of autobiographical adventure, and also the name of one of the yachts at his home in Barbados, earned from shilling best-selling potboilers).

And then it emerged: the round-the-world trips, the Pole-to-Pole journeys, everything Lancaster had claimed to have done was false. He had been on some minor cruises, but he could barely steer a speedboat. His exposure caused a fracture, for even when his mass popularity waned, certain serious critics suddenly took an interest. 'Imagine finding out that James Patterson was a supercomputer, or that Martha Stewart's food was not real but made from hybrid plastics: it would be weird not to be a little curious about the hows and whys,' said Harold Bloom. Lancaster's response was a vow to learn how to navigate, and then perform every single feat he had laid claim to. He tried, failed, went mad.

Walker Percy's script shows a life dashed on the rocks, and with Ford's unsteady hand on the tiller, the film is everything and nothing. We see events as Lancaster told them; we see events as they were; we see events as he then set out to make them, after his exposure. This is not shown in a linear fashion, however, and the mixture of fact and fantasy, performed by four actors, muddies the metaphors enough for us to lose our way. In a film about (dis)honesty, we are never sure about which parts we can trust. As such, it serves as a corrosive antidote to the limpid idolatry of a regular biopic, most of which rest in a deep gutter of cause-and-effect (x was an addict/wifebeater because he was a genius/x was a genius because he was an addict/wifebeater; montages detailing the exact moment of incredible genius because all genius has to have an exact moment (which presents the paradox of biopics: this 'showing' drags the art and artist to mundane cliche, and yet we are expected to believe that what we see is unique).

As played in vastly differing styles in this one film by Rod Steiger, Alain Delon, John Cassavetes and Charles Aznavour, Lancaster is presented as a cubist portrait; a muscular bald neck here (Steiger), a cowardly twitch there (Cassavetes); a brave smooth nose in one place (Delon) obscuring a more honest and self-regarding schnoz elsewhere (Aznavour); all are possible facades, all are as hopelessly true as they are hopelessly false. His teary wife (Gena Rowlands) buys all of them, as long as it suits her.

At one point, Cassavetes as Lancaster asks 'Is lying so wrong? Why? Who says?' At another, Steiger as Lancaster asks: 'Is a man without a dream any kind of man?' We see Aznavour as Lancaster ask 'surely it is more cowardly to tell the truth, with no risk of exposure? Doesn't a braver man build a bigger house of cards?' It is left to Delon, on the faux-deathbed, to say 'fiction is truth. Only liars think otherwise, and they're not worth my time.'

Friggin' In The Riggin': The John Lancaster Stories Directed by Vic Ford Produced by Bert Schneider Written by Vic Ford, Walker Percy Starring Rod Steiger, John Cassavetes, Charles Aznavour, Alain Delon, Gena Rowlands Warner Brothers 123 mins Release Date US: September 1974/ UK: March 1975 Tagline:'He was lying on seabeds; now he's lying on deathbeds.'

Sunday, 19 September 2010


On page 367 of his labyrinthine history of film 'VIZ-A-VIZUAL', scholarly Teuton L. Bosch cites a Romanian text written by the shamanic historian Nicolae Nicolescu, who articulated the fate and epitaph of Vincenzo Loao, a local baron of mixed parentage who fell from his horse and died in 1913. Nicolescu centres on Loao as the primary symbol of what he calls 'Tigan tau' (loosely translated as 'gypsy tao'), a minor fad in parts of Eastern Europe during the early decades of the 20th Century.

Loao sustained a head injury in his fall, but lived long enough to insist on a message for his own headstone. It was a mixture of Romanian, Portuguese and indecipherable words. His younger brother, the stout Dmitri, dutifully saw to it that his wishes were adhered to, without understanding the message. Fragments could be made to make sense, if forced- one line that most agreed on was 'the hummingbird cannot be seen to move' although some argued that it was more like 'the hummingbird moves so quickly no-one can see', a subtle difference, but a difference all the same.

Nicolescu, dipping beyond local folklore located a theory, and it centred on what L Bosch described as 'a Twilight Zone dreamache, a Borgesian hello, a whole philosophy rendered so cryptic as to be unseen'. Study of Loao thus far had dismissed his interest in religion, in particular that 'derivation of Eastern transcendentalism fed through a Dead Sea gauze and winged with Romany blood rituals and flower-theory' that Nicolescu calls key to 'his attempts at understanding mortality.' Nicolescu was knee-deep in this when a development came and changed his book.

March 1966: a publican in Bucharest found two reels of film in his basement that could not be identified. Rather than handing them to the authorities, he was persuaded by a patron of his bar to let them be taken to a local intellectual known only as 'Gheorghe'. An acquaintance of Gheorghe's identified the main actor appearing in both films as Vincenzo Loao, the exotic part-foreigner who had died fifty years earlier. His striking black features and his long frame (Loao being, by various accounts, anywhere between six and seven feet tall) was verified by many in Loao's hometown, just twenty miles from the capital. Gheorghe noticed that some locals refused to look at the films, despite them both being only seven minutes in length, and containing only innocuous footage of Loao walking, dancing and performing a quiet array of poses for the camera.

Frustrated by the apparent superstitiousness of the locals, Gheorghe was about to leave when a mute and almost blind man gestured to him from the trees. He led Gheorghe through the woods in near dark until he came to an apparently abandoned barn. He gestured for Gheorghe to go inside, where there was nothing except a pile of wood in the centre of the building, prepared as if for a fire. The old mute walked to the pile, lifted the wood and pulled out a can of film. On it was drawn a small white symbol. He pointed to this carefully, and then placed the film in Gheorghe's hands, gesturing for him to leave quickly.

It was another film of Loao. This time twelve minutes in length. Although slightly deteriorated, the long dark gentleman can be seen throughout, performing several poses that appear to be akin to a slow martial art. It still made little sense.

But then: in 1967, Gheorghe received an anonymous package. It was another film, much like the previous ones. Another arrived a month later, and yet another within two weeks. He received a tip-off of a Loao film turning up in Sarajevo, and retrieved it by train. Another was sent to him by an acquaintance in West Berlin, who had no knowledge of his search. When Gheorghe was interviewed by Filmdat, a Greek periodical later that year, he drew attention to the films, and received an influx of new material. A stockbroker in London sent him a piece from his collection, that showed Loao on a horse approaching a castle; a projectionist at a picture house in Queens, New York sent a film to Gheorghe that had been found amid reels of fading previews and curled B-movies.

In all, there were twenty pieces of film, all starring Loao. Gheorghe pieced them together as best he could, but could make no sense of them. He was convinced of a narrative, but could not recreate it.

Nicolecu writes: 'Gheorghe tried it all; tried plying them in every possible order. Still, they only glowed with suggestion. But then, something strange happened. When trying to change from one reel to another, Gheorghe's projector chewed two reels into its mouth and threw them onto the screen simultaneously; the two images (one of Loao performing an odd karate; one of Loao miming fishing) were combined, and created an entirely new shape: and behold! when Loao moved into a lotus position, and this was now juxtaposed with him riding a horse near a castle, one could see something forming: new shapes, appearing like hieroglyphics, his body shapes forming letters, sentences: there is an A, hard and angular, there is a C, soft but clear. And the Gheorghe remembered Loao's epitaph, regarding the hummingbird, and pondered that the film stock may be wings, which, when beaten together at ferocious pace would cause order to come... and after many weeks of re-watching and watching, Gheorghe discovered the statement that Loao had left and hidden. The sped-up images of contorted body parts combined to spell out the following:

'I have nothing to say... There is no more... my body is dead... I cannot believe in a world that exists without me... therefore I must be alive... forever more.'

Post-script: the identity of 'Gheorghe' has never been fully known. Some postulate that he was in on a hoax, that he was a Loao, or similiar; some suggest he is non-existent, a surrogate created by Nicolescu. Details do not suffice.

Pe Avioanele Invizibile Directed by Dmitri Loao Starring Vincenzo Loao Release Date US/UK: N/A. Shown in its edited Gheorghe inspired form at MOMA in 2001.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

GLITTERED SHOULDERS (Douglas Sirk, 1961)

'To know inauthenticity is not the same as to be authentic' Paul de Man

'To appreciate a film like Glittered Shoulders probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message.' Roger Ebert

Pierre Imperius, firebrand beat critic for the short-lived Insouciance '55 said of Douglas Sirk's Glittered Shoulders that 'if insoluble dubious intent is the barometer of febrile justice (and judging by the nixed reactions to the Testament of Offshore Leaking, and Korea, and The State of the United States, actually, it may well not be) then tensions must surely mount upon the fluid release from this hellish discharger; for Sirk may purport to mock vanities, but he is decadence disempowered, stripped to fervent longing and lack of belonging and unfurling and and and and... the self-indulgence on display is surely worthy of crucifixion, with no chance of resurrection.'1

A counter-argument comes from an unlikely source. In his erudite examination of road movies Gas, Food and Longing (1986) shabby philosopher Milo Holodex takes in a pitstop (sunny vista, near a large villa, walled gardens) and lingers on Sirk briefly, suggesting that, in his repeated examination of lovers and haters in situ (A house, a stage, a house as a stage) Sirk 'tackles American displacement from within; his characters are eating the heart out, whereas the Easy Riders and Kowalskis are just eating out, heartlessly'.2

But time and time again, purported avant-garde or experimental film-makers are cut a huge amount of slack, whereas huge studio names like Sirk are drafted into the drippy camp, tarred as counter-revolutionary or dimly praised as 'stylists.' But surely with Glittered Shoulders Sirk nails what any number of angry Shampoos or Blow-Ups or Beyond the Valley of the Dolls stuck it to (in their varied ways) later and with less complexity. It drapes a plot over the arm of a Hollywood setting, and implodes a cold and hucksterish scene from inside-out (which perhaps is scientifically an impossible metaphor, but such is the sleight of hand that Sirk pulls: The satire is so vast as to be invisible. This Hollywood stage is bedevilled with such ornate decadence that it would a miracle for the keen starlets, oaken actors and trophy-laden old money to notice the elephant in the room (with its irony tusks). Elephantitis, or similar visible and/or tropical disease, would be sniffed like freshly-cut gossip from next week and banished or paraded accordingly.)

Anita Ekberg is the bombshell with an LSD addiction, paying regular visits to a German doctor; Richard Widmark the producer from the storied family who seeks to live up to his name with on-screen success and off-screen destruction; Groucho Marx has a flinty cameo as a cynical party host with an impenetrable hold on the tastemakers; Lana Turner, in curious series of wigs and eyelashes is Baroness Barba Gabrielle Gastoni (or 'Lady Baba Gaga for short, and boy is she short with everyone,' as Marx tells all), the lost lead around who the film spins. She enters, she leaves, she sighs, and endless orchestral variations of Henry Mancini's 'Theme From Glittered Shoulders'3 follow and follow and follow, until it feels like this elegiac drift is not so much an announcement of her beauty and presence as a haunting reminder of her spindly existence.

All of the characters speak knowingly and with apparent wisdom (of goings on, of what to do, of who does who, and how they do), and yet each screams sadness with every smirk. Marx is particularly effective in this regard; his familiar smart-aleck persona rendered, with a slight shifting of mirrors, unlikeable and desperate. The difference is minor (Groucho Marx is, after-all, always Groucho Marx), and many critics see here only a paler imitation of his best performances. But this is Sirk's masterstroke, withholding the genius when necessary, frustrating the audience and the performer. He performs a dramatic castration, an orchestrated self-savagery epic and lushly toned, in which satire is buried so deep as to be be as cool and cruel as the ice princess at its centre, Turner.

I return to Paul de Man: 'Irony divides the flow of temporal experience into a past that is pure mystification and a future that remains harassed forever by a relapse within the inauthentic. It can only restate and repeat it on an increasingly conscious level.' Sirk's genius is that he manages to unite these two separate time zones in a place so rarely visited that it took viewers and critics years to discover the breadcrumb trail led somewhere.

Glittered Shoulders Directed by Douglas Sirk Produced by Ross Hunter Written by Allan Scott Starring Lana Turner, Richard Widmark, Anita Ekberg, Groucho Marx, Music by Henry Mancini, Universal Pictures 123 min Release Date US: June 1961 UK: November 1961 Tagline:'Come rub shoulders with the stars.'

1. Insouciance'55, vol3 No12, Summer 1961. Imperius said lots of things for their coin, and took a long time saying them: He wrote 100,000 words over a two year period.
2. Holodex makes another claim worth repeating:'
'the sixties represent the beginning of the end not because of drugs or sexual deviancy or civil rights or Vietnam, but because it was the first time that a huge minority of Americans became aware of the mass illusion that there is a joke that they have to be in on; this is what is loosely known as cool; it poisons the waters of the most benign offerings, and does so endlessly, so much so that instead of admiring great achievements, we spend longer avoiding great embarrassments'.
I think it is worth thinking about Sirk with these words in our ears, because not only did his career end as 'the sixties' formed, but because no modern concept of cool includes elements that are especially Sirkian; The man himself had no concern for it. He said: 'the great artists... have always thought with the heart'. He also said, (regarding the film's relative box-office failure) 'I could suggest a thousand reasons why nobody wanted this. But they would all be incorrect. Motives are always confused, always, if they are honest. And by honest I do not know what I mean.' These two statements need not be seen as contradictory.
3. The main theme song was composed by Henry Mancini, crooned by Ricky Nelson, and had notable lyrics by Mack Discant:
'When you rub shoulders with the stars, you get glittered limbs
you compose wild hymns
In your pseudonym, she swims
And other synonyms'

Saturday, 28 August 2010


'Inadvertent magic, is, we think, the best kind; the secret message, the hazy coincidence, the series of signs not quite decoded. It can be the first recording of a song, before the words have clicked into place, when the flawed syntax catches the edge of a chord, and the hum of a misplaced microphone spills into the mixture. But there comes a point, and this can be dangerous, when the artist can fall prey to a confidence borne of this early fizzing success; she wants to harness the power without understanding it, and seeks a do-over, never understanding that the misplaced passes and fudged lines of the imperfect first incantation were vital to its construct.' Greil Marcus, Lost Locales

" hour later they of course loop back and, finding the intersection they made earlier, exclaim 'More tracks!... A second car joined the first one.' As the hours go by they rejoin their own tracks again and again, believing each time that the highway they are following has grown busier and busier. This brilliantly allegorical scene is endlessly regressive: what Thompson and Thomson are doing is failing to recognise that they are not only reading their own mark but also reading their own reading of their mark, their interpretation of their own interpretation. Tintin, crouching over the tracks, realises what is going on but has no means of communicating. Then the Khamsin whips itself into action: a ferocious sandstorm that soon wipes all tracks away. An orgy of marking, reading and misreading, followed by total erasure, total inscrutability. As Tintin huddles, despondent, endless grains of sand hit his eyes and mouth, like so many illegible tracts.' Tom McCarthy, Tintin and the Secret of Literature

'The past it is a magic word/Too beautiful to last' John Clare, Childhood

Like a prehistoric (in cinema terms, at least) version of Antonioni's Blow-Up, Dexter Himmler's Behold The Awesome Mountain is about the reconstruction of a scene; an attempt at discovery through rediscovery (and vice-versa), insight through repetition. With its classically cinematic themes of doubles, lost images, exotic locales and erasure, layers of suggestion are peeled and unpeeled in ultra-white. Framing tales window onto previous and later ones, events unfold like the pages of a lost diary; we gather that we are following a photographer (Peiter Wiki) who accompanied an expedition up an unnamed peak in the Himalayas. We find that his tale is dipped in tragedy- the party is severed in an avalanche, and the photographer apparently expires, sending his photographs back down the mountain on a horse somehow.

So it seems.

A series of narrative focus-pulls changes our perspective, firstly from the expedition's leader Nicolas (Lukas Bronowsky), then to the photographer following the group (whose feat seems more astounding- for not only does he follow, but at points he leads, lugging his tripod and camera over ledges to record the party's arrival; he does everything they do, but with more baggage), then to the horse, and finally to the recipient of the photos, the brother of the expedition leader, Jan (whose near-identical likeness to his sibling causes us to turn full circle, back to the original hero; especially as he is also played by Bronowsky). Jan recreates the footsteps of his brother in a bid to find the locations of the photographs. Initially this is an attempt to discover the fate of Nicolas, but soon Jan finds a strange power in the snaps, and begins mimicking them as precisely as possible, at the correct locations on the journey up the mount, in a faintly ridiculous ritual that makes sense to only Jan.

He seems convinced that if he can recreate the photos, he will end up finding his brother; all the time, he seems half in-love with the potential for his own decimation by following this path. A belief that the party may have found some snow-capped Eldorado takes hold as well, and Jan follows, re-enacting the scenes, pulling texts from his boots, stories from the snow. He curses his own mistakes. Sometimes he takes the wrong route or gets the angle of a photograph skew-whiff. Always, he regrets not being on the original expedition, and mourns lost games of ping-pong and shuffleboard with his brother. Oh, and the woodland rambles they would drift on! His final words to the reluctant photographer as he struts off alone up the impenetrable mountain hang over the snow:

'I just know that there is a warm safe place here... where nobody but me can find him, napping and content... and I also know that I may never find it...'

Himmler shot the film in English, despite a German cast, contrived a fictional crew member that he claimed was lost on location to drum up publicity, and never made another film. He attempted to remake Behold The Awesome Mountain in America in the early seventies, but failed to find the funding; this time, his previous tracks really were covered over, never to be followed. And so endless versions can be imagined, but not realised.

Behold The Awesome Mountain Directed by Dexter Himmler Produced by Fritz Loger, Dexter Himmler Starring Peiter Wiki, Lukas Bronowsky, Fabrice Domoccoli FDF Pictures Release Date UK: Feb 1948 US: Jan 1951 103 mins Tagline: 'So Snowy, so white, so gone...'

Friday, 13 August 2010

BOXES (Vincent Leighton,1996)

When a thirteen year-old boy is killed by a train, his friend explores his belongings for clues about his death. Based on his findings, he accumulates evidence all around his small hometown, becoming ever more convinced of a cosmic conspiracy that his friend may well have been in on.

Pages and pages of detailed sport scores, both fictional and real; detailed accounts of both the England football team's defeat on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals of Italia '90 and their hypothetical counterparts' fictional fate, winning the trophy outright with a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia in the final (Platt 68, Lineker 83), all played-out in vivid detail in the Little Park, and recorded herein for prosperity. Other scrap and crap: dirty books covered in wallpaper, the Penthouse he got one Christmas, when after opening all his presents his Mum leaned in and whispered 'don't go and look now, but there's something extra under your pillow for bedtime', and which we, incredulous, took turns in taking to the bathroom, to do what with we knew not what; fabulous contracts, IOUs, wrappers of chocolate bars with details of expired competitions, badges with his own face on, drawings, hundreds of them, poor in execution but with an unquenchable zest. Each one looke as if it had been drawn at great speed, and that wasn't some style he had cultivated, but was emblematic of the fact that always the idea was more imoprtant than the presentation, often to its detriment, as many of the pictures are indecipherable. Often, the artist clearly loses interest as he composes, the initial excitement failing to sustain the technique long enough to see the picture through, another idea exploding already on another piece of paper.

Ideas as far-reaching as designs for weapons, sports equipment, confections, video games, board games, houses, secret houses, secret girlfriends, shadowy backstories, egos and alter-egos, cartoon characters, carton charters, novels, novellas, ghost stories, menus, record sleeves, sleeveless outfits, bands, graphs of pocket-money spending and savings, dozens of illustrated pool trick shots, entire league seasons of invented sports with invented teams, a fake police report for a child Tony had known before he moved to our school who he claimed had been hit by a bus and killed, to whom he dedicated some of his better battle-scene sketches of Americans in the Burmese jungle or Lancaster bombers over Dresden or Space-Orks on a sinking Bismarck. Most are barely fascinating in themselves, containing the thinly-veiled plagiarism of a normal thirteen-year old. But as a demonstration of a fickle and searching spirit they are illuminating, if only in sheer volume. Most are dated and accompanied with a small 'TC' in the corner. There are some pages which are only this small 'TC' repeated over and over, like practice or lines.

The amount of pages produced in any one day could be thirty or forty. On the 18th July 1991, when Carter was 12, he not only designed an electronic umbrella ('The Cartella'), an over-packed chocolate bar that would be all but inedible ('The Tony Bar') and seven cars, but also all manner of gun and knife hybrids (none small), wonkily rendered warrior types and all manner of boat/shuttle combinations, each bigger and angrier than the last. (Assuming I'm looking at them in order- they may of course have gotten smaller and neater, as he dragged his fantasies down to the Earth; but no.) Rather than perfecting and honing designs, it seems that he was moving away from the original inspiration each time, as a character drawn on the 13th was less nuanced by the 15th, growing and spitting, deeper indentations into the paper, as if his flighty fighting spirit was unable to or could not cope with cohesive and finite versions of anything. Suggestion was key, scale implied, rarely measured.

Always, always huge.

And then: Thirty-line limericks or one-hundred-line haikus, enough spent ink to give a bionic giant a transfusion, enough paper to house the cuckoos of the planet. The lids and labels from prescription pharmaceuticals, his mother's, cut and pasted into a dictionary. Prototype dialects abandoned, reams of babble, nothing ponderous or overworked. careless cacophony actually displayed great interest in its desire for the new. His fertility, its teeming, spouting at the mouth. But poor Tony, can't find the spunk to strike the egg, or the notch to set it all off, just morass of hot potential. His starts now seem like sullied canvasses, rotten fibres.

I flicked through the pages quicker and quicker, losing interest in the designs, when I came across one that made me stop. At first I didn't think it was a Carter drawing, as its subject matter wasn't one that might concern him, and its execution too careful and, well, skilled. But the fizzing felt-tipped colours were his alright, leaving their margins like immigrants in search of a new life, unmoored from the page. A train, a man surrouded in bright colour. The usual signature and date confirmed: July 15th, the day after he died.

A message.

This metaphysical detective story was the only feature directed by Vincent Leighton, a veteran of the small-screen. He died in 2001, before his pet project The Infested Mind of Pat Phoenix: A Psychedelic Biopic could be completed.

The Box Directed by Vincent Leighton Produced by Coxy Written by Simon Home Starring Graham Mikl, Fred Savicevic, Pat Dancer, Tom Tarter Film Four Pictures Release Date UK: March 1996 99 mins.

Friday, 6 August 2010

ROGER IN AMERRYKA! (Leonard Fitzroy, 1959)

I announce: I have discovered a country: Amerryka!

And with it, life as anecdotal drift. For example: It was 1940; It was 1950; It was 1960. I formed a rock'n'roll trio with two regulation gas attendants, and mewed kicking non-hits like 'Destination Cerebrum', 'Damn Cat' and Pigeon Porch Blues' all over Kentucky and Tenessee, my extracted claws making a screeing guitar holler but lacking subtlety to make pretty chords. Our sets lasted for minutes, but I always charmed a female into taking me home. I always wore a bowtie onstage, and I discovered that cats dressed as humans gets girls all giddy and a flutter. During those years I made love to thousands of cats. I made love with hundreds of human women. I tried it with males, I tried it with dogs. It was an itch I couldn't scratch; I remained candlewick dependent. I swam through ages, never getting older; I drank up the new years while still being able to see, smell and taste the old ones. My double vision became trebled, quadrupled; Olefactory calamity captivated my bronchioles, until I convulsed thrice-nightly. My dreams, seperated from waking by no film of unreality, began to multiply together, spawning horrific orgies between a pantheon of inter-human species, cat people with wings instead of heads, dancing notions pressing gruesome members into each other in an endless diorama of fur and flesh intercourse, sweating, endless and sickening. And in all of it, in my sleep and in my day, I knew I was being watched. The fairground, under the lights, I began to realise I was either being followed or was tailing an unknown suspect for an unknown crime. I was a Trojan Hoss of heightened language, embedded with chiselled horrors and cocaine brained fancy.' Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'

Leonard Fitzroy's Roger the Cat is but one in a long line of feline protagonists with an urbane demeanour. But no cat has surely gone as far as Roger, whose beat prose and sexual neediness marks him apart. The Roger the Cat stories, part science-fiction, part experimental fuzz, part 'awwdon'thelooklikealilman' cuteness always confound and delight equally. Too risque, perhaps, for many sensibilities; for after having the stories rejected by every magazine, periodical and newspaper going, Fitzroy finally self-published the Collected Roger the Cat stories in 1953, and managed to get some attention reading them aloud in Greenwich Village cafes.

The origins tale, Roger and the Author, caused a riot at the Semblance Cafe in Prospect when several of Fitzroy's inebriated writer friends grew annoyed at the implicit criticism of the self-deluding romantic ideals of the titular scribe. They took it to be a mocking of their scene, and flounced accordingly. This led to Fitzroy recording the jazzy single 'Too Beat for Two Beats' under the name 'Roger the Cat', with Landon Horny providing the voice of Roger for the unforgettable chorus:

Too hep for those cats
I'm feline groovy
Blue eyes, no cataracts
My relationship with myself
Is merely platonic
But I'd be lying if I said
I didn't want to take it further'

The success of the song drew attention from Hollywood. Mogul David O Selznick wanted to make an animated picture, telling Fitzroy that his 'cussin' cat causes kids to cry and I want a piece'. Arguments abounded as to the format, before settling on a quite spectacular mixture of tinted live action footage an animation, a psychedelic inversion of the yet to come real-people-in-toontown Roger Rabbit principle.

The film flopped. 'It wasn't Roger's horniness, his affair with Joan Fontaine, his taste for the swears or even smoking that Americans didn't like,' claimed Fitzroy. 'It was the fact that he was an intellectual, and talked alot.'1 Roger's poetic thrust, sexual clamour and propensity for cod-philosophy (and cod philosophy) found him an audience among students throughout the sixties, enough for a sequel Roger Gets Hep (1967) to be made, this time with no attempt to charm the kiddies. His iconic presence was seen on pin badges and banners at Vietnam protests across campuses in America, and in Paris in May 1968. It seems his constantly open spirit and questioning attitude will always find fans, albeit sporadically: A character named Roger the Catt appeared in Cheech and Chong's I Started A Toke (1981), and Roger appeared heavily in Jean-Luc Godard's Mickey Mouse biopic La Souris d'Hollywood (1987). The original film has been remastered and re-released several times, earning praise from Peter Cook who called it 'the result of a boozy seance between Doctors Seuss, Freud and John'. 2

'The truth is, Roger will always be quicker than me,' Fitzroy said in 1994. 'I never managed to pin him down in any story, strip or film. He was always too clever.' 3

'Bewitched by the Americas. Inca cats. The earth is soiled by tattooed spells. There, I was plugged into full cat voodoo, inserted into the mainframe, dispelled to a swirling hexed vortex. The Native Americans claimed that ancient cats, Gugols, were there, in North America, before humanity. They receded when Humans came. If your hive was Africa, ours was America. Inspired, giddy, lovestruck, I saw a ghostly cat that I followed. It looked pretty, pretty as me, and had a familiar gait that I attributed to a wombic memory of motherhood. When I saw her in an alley, I scared away another cat, shadowy and evasive, that slipped into the swampy indeces of the drugged city. The object of my affection did not acknowledge me once; just sidled away, with a follow me turn of the tail. Motherlode, They became expert at disappearing; they became attuned to the wind,. and took off in invisible flights. untailored modes. In the hollows of the man-made fortifications, in the call of the trees, they sing quietly. Dire tunes, terse and bitter some of them, but to a cat those hallowed meccas retune the brain like a lightning rod to the tail. exonerated spirits, The city was a used book, even when fresh metal. It's fifty-storey mountains came retro-fitted with hexes and chants, and weaved in the wind accordingly. Nectared breezes send bitter ghostly spells up Manhattan streets, before expiring in the salt of the Harbour. I was, reader, in a lather. Clutching at the West Virginian meterologies like they were tangible personages, Tom Rain, the firebrand, honest, brave, Lucy Sun, shy, alert, mating in their woozy troposphere boudoir, where further weathers are made, eternal variables of their uncles and aunts who spawn rainbow offspring with mixed metaphor jism. Awakened in a Louisiana hotel to perverse ecosystems, twitching my synapses like arcane texts, to be read aloud, to a matful of bovine schoolherd who would sink into a magical slumber and arise sainted and holy, handsome and wise.'

Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'Roger in Amerryka! Directed by Leonard Fitzroy Produced by David O Selznick, Tom Lord Written by Leonard Fitzroy Starring Landon Horny (voice), Joan Fontaine, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle Selznick International Pictures 92 mins Release Date US: May 1959/ UK Aug 1966 Tagline: 'The Cool Cat's Cool Cat Strikes Back (Hatless)'

1. Paris Match interview, 1986
2. Times interview, May 21 1992
3. The Guardian interview March 1994

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

KUBRICK'S NAPOLEON (Charlie Kaufman, 2010)


When I talk about greatest films you've never seen, I of course attempt to encourage a visionary moment on the part of the reader- these films do not exist, and can be seen in no cinema near you except the Ritz in your skull: the one with the ultimate screen, the eyelid, on which that brilliant-but-flickering projector, the inner eye, sends down images in dream-light. All are the ultimate possibles, because they never were. But there is another kind of never-weres, a branch that exists in the common imagination because they were almost made; their relationship to anecdotal reality is more suspicious, because it includes a failure, because they were begun but never finished, miscarried or aborted long before a metaphorical forty weeks were up. These unfinished films live in a never-ending circle of longing: Just intoning the following creates an inescapable spiral loop: Welles' Quixote; Gilliam's Quixote; Lean's Nostromo (Conrad); Welles' Heart of Darkness (Conrad); Welles' Quixote. Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon stands as possibly the greatest of these unfinished pieces, taking up two years of Kubrick's life in deep research, before studio cold feet brought it to a halt, leaving it as an endless what-if. Kubrick had everything: scripts, set designs, incredibly detailed notes on what he was to do- all of which he kept with him until death, never quite letting go the hope of realising his dream film.


Charlie Kaufman, naturally did not want to just make Kubrick's Napoleon. He didn't want to make a film about making Kubrick's Napoleon either. He wanted to make a film of Stanley Kubrick making Kubrick's Napoleon. He is a man with impossible dreams with a penchant for men with impossible dreams, and so his account is of a young man, director John Fink, who realises that he is about to be the same age that his hero Stanley Kubrick was when he attempted to begin his film Napoleon. Fink decides that he has no chance to be as great as his idol in original deed, so he sets out to recreate a facsimile of the man's dream, and make the Napoleon film that Kubrick did not. He gets access to a storage space filled with Kubrick's huge amount of research, and studiously tries to recreate the plan. Exactly. 1970 vintage equipment is used, and everybody on set must dress in era clothing. No cell phones on set. Strict discipline will surely cause some magic to be absorbed. These rules soon multiply and expand: No-one can travel to the set in a car younger than 1971, no internet, or discussions thereof; No cell phones ever, anywhere. Slang and pop cultural references must be temporaneous. The Shining hasn't happened yet, but A Clockwork Orange has.


Fink goes from dressing like Kubrick in an attempt to invoke his spirit, to impression, to believing that he is Kubrick, all on a long tumultuous shoot that causes psyches to fray and unravel. Rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, noted for his uncanny likeness to a younger Kubrick, stars as Fink in his first dramatic role. He pulls off an astonishingly subtle dive; Fink's absorption into Kubrick's colours and mythos is lengthy and delirious, spinning from the sporting of a lucky black polo neck to full-blown hectic impersonation, even dropping anecdotes from the sets of Kubrick's films as if they had happened to him, like how James Mason's quirks and desire for certain pre and post-luncheon activities reset the clocks on the set of Lolita(1962), and how Malcolm McDowell only eats from one side of his plate (the left). For a while, it works. Cast and crew begin to wonder if this man is a reincarnation, or if they have somehow slipped into the past. Shooting begins well. But it cannot hold.


The original title was K for Kubrick, N for Napoleon which, carrying with it an inescapable nod to Welles' own F for Fake (1974) (and in so doing, reveals itself to be slippery, for if a title like 'F for Fake' transparently suggests its own lie, a title that refers to that lie indirectly silently reveals its hidden lie only somewhat, that is to say, it reveals that its lie is hidden somewhere, or perhaps that it is hiding the fact that it contains an honesty about a lie that too that is not to be trusted. Or not.) perhaps too swiftly put the film in a place of self-described charlatanry that Kaufman had mined before, in particularly in the script for Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999). This place is woozily compelling of course. But Kaufman stepped away from this comfortable clearing, and marched on through the unfloodlit trees with his directorial debut Synechdoche NY (2008)(a film about 'things' and 'people' in every possible permutation unimaginable). He goes further into the darkness here, only now he is running euphorically, somehow avoiding low-hanging branches, fallen logs, and all manner of blackly unseen hazards.

Kuafman as R.A. as Fink as Kubrick fails, burns the set, throws himself on the fire; the only ending possible. $100 million dollars expires.

Kubrick's Napoleon Directed by Charlie Kaufman Produced by Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze Written by Charlie Kaufman (using sequences written by Stanley Kubrick) Starring R.A. the Rugged Man, Cary Elwes, Tom Wilkinson Produced by Sony Pictures Classics 135 mins Release Date US: March 2010 UK: July 2010 Tagline: 'Can You Solve The Kubrick Rube?'

Thursday, 8 July 2010

PARAPRODOKIAN: MAYBE YOU JUST HAD TO BE THERE (John and Lucy Mills, 2007) a meandering monolgue without a punchline, only moreso, herein we see a playing out of the Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World sketch, that frustratingly perfect device in which the promised gag is withheld; For this documentary, about the comedian Alex Paraprodokian, labelled by Time magazine as 'The Funniest Man In The World, Sketching' contains no sign of Paraprosdokian himself, as the filmmakers could not track him down. We have no primary evidence of his hilarity either, as none of his jokes have been recorded, on audio or visual media. What we do have is a series of talking heads giving vaguely remembered descriptions of how funny he was, leading to the suspicion that the whole exercise is a spurious gag at our expense. One after another, screen comedians appear to sing the praises of a man who may only be a rumour. These famous, successful comedians all bow down to the almighty Paraprodokian; Stephen Wright, Rodney Dangerfield, Sandra Bernhard, and more, but none can remember an exact joke, none can bring us proof. Time and time again, we're told: I guess you had to be there.

One woman's funny mount is another's vast edifice of nonsense; for one individual, 'because it's there' is reason enough to go to the top, for another, it is an exercise in pointlessness. No one comedian can ever stand above every other, an Everest in fact and feet. I could go on about the highest mountains being below sea, but the metaphor splits in my hands, overstretched with weight. The point being: successful comedians need not be funny, but can merely offer enough of an impression of a funny person to suffice. Silly voices and faces are a start. A speculative experiment finds that, contrary to popular expectation and hope, those that might attempt to sue (to pick someone entirely at random) Adam Sandler, say, for, 'distress caused by gross unfunniness' perhaps,would only ever lose. If his face is on the poster (and it always is) then the viewer only has himself to blame, a hypothetical judge might conclude.

A Hypothetical Judge Might Conclude (1999) is a comedy that revolves around several high-profile comedians reading pre-written jokes in front of a camera (some of which are attributed to the hidden Paraprodokian), which records them. If the delivery is poor, they have the opportunity to record the joke again. When the entire sequence is complete, it is edited together into an apparently seamless and spontaneous piece, known as a 'film'. This approach is, by this point, a tried and tested formula, supported by a multi-million dollar machine that creates the best possible conditions for a successful recording. All possible problems have many opportunities to be eliminated by many of the hundred people involved in the project. And yet. And yet. 'Perhaps we are in a truly 'If you don't buy a ticket you can't win the lottery' industry, and Universal Pictures reason that the more American Pie films are made, the greater their chances of finding a joke,' says Mark Kermode. He too had no idea of Paraprodokian's existence until Paraprodokian came out, and was among the prominent critics suggesting it to be a hoax: That Alex Paraprodokian does not exist. Several comedians in New Jersey have claimed to either be Paraprodokian or to have played a character onstage called Paraprodokian, but none have proved to be very funny. Not proof of their lie in itself; but it does bring with it the ghost of a suggestion that no-one can be that funny, ever.

'Comedy is essentially anarchy, and cannot be bottled' said Bob Hope, of all people. 'The comic, like the Indian, has a piece of his soul stolen by the camera.' Which apart from bringing the story of Alex Paraprodokian to mind, is clearly the kind of mythologising bullshit we support every day; the kind of artist-as-indefinite-divinity system that invented him.

The film concludes in the woods of Conneticut, where the makers have come to find the supposed place of Paraprodokian's birth. The Mills' crew finds nothing, other than a clearing where a house used to be.

Alex Paraprodokian has his place in the OED:

Paraprodokian (n): 1. Name given to an item of brilliance that there is no accountable evidence of. 2. An unseen presence in a room of people.

Paraprodokian: Maybe You Just Had To Be There Directed, Written and Produced by John and Lucy Mills Starring Stephen Wright, George Carlin, Sandra Bernhard, Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Janeane Garofalo, Damon Wayans

Sunday, 4 July 2010


'Without 'two world wars and one world cup', as the song goes, the English would have disappeared from even their own imaginations by the year 2000.' Peter Handke

'Without the Beatles, England are Portugal; Empireless and small.' Ian Svenonius, The Psychic Soviet

' [These comedies] come with the idea: we the British, and more specifically, we the English, can laugh at ourselves, and that is what makes us better than you. But it also contains the more troubling thought: we can laugh at ourselves, because whatever we are, we know we're better than you.' Stephen Fry

When England were paired with Germany in the World Cup last week, it resurrected age-old cliches that even the brazen seemed to use half-heartedly, aware that the ground had shifted. But use them they did, and when Our Boys were ambushed by a swashbuckling young German side filled with various ethnicities, the great unspoken English response was: that should be us. But naturally, it couldn't be, not right now, because deep introspection and radical projection isn't natural for the English (we use a French term, avant-garde, remember, because we have no equivalent of our own).

The goal that wasn't was one of those poetic echoes that sport, unscripted, throws up, a beautifully crafted red herring, in this case.

The Second World War gave Britain several things: A renewed feeling that her innate sense of moral superiority was correct (the geographical spread of the Nazi forces everywhere but the islands is both a fact and a metaphor), a celebratory complacency (for while America thrived in a consumerist glee adrenilized by rock'n'roll/Vietnam/Space Race euphoria, and the rest of Western Europe rebuilt and modernized itself, Britain clung to a sepia infrastructure) and a ribald miscellany of comic types to sustain itself for twenty years, thirty years, forever.1 From the kinky Gestapo officer to the tediously punctual guard, to name but two, the Nazis as joyless sadists turn up again and again, especially in the Nineteen Seventies,when every sitcom/stand-up routine/sexploitation comedy of English origin had one.

Always, it is the notion of spirited, fair-playing Englishmen which prevails, the plucky geezer fighting the robotic enemy. Of course, a berserk romanticism on the part of the Nazi's is key to what undid them. but its kinder (and lazier) to think about them as automatons consistently outgagged and outsmarted by an Englishman, with common sense,wit and attitude.

Adolf Hitler '68 Comeback Special seizes the same turf, initially, as Heil Honey I'm Home, or 'Allo 'Allo: it's mean panto season, then, and our ugly sisters wear swastikas. Shot with the same tone as the Robin Asquith 'Confessions...' flicks, and often with a similar cast and locales (Southend stands in for Paraguay, Brixton is Manhattan), John Le Mesurier plays an eerily un-uncanny Erwin Rommel in the style of Roger Moore, trying to guide the second coming of Hitler (Tony Booth) back from the jungle hideaway in Paraguay he has inhabited since 1945. His plan: Career resurrection, Broadway style. He books a televised show (under the pseudonym Johnny Fuhrer, a name later adopted by the singer of shock punks The Swasticklers) at Carnegie Hall where he will unveil the fourth reich, supported by hypnotism, which he hopes to conquer the new empire of America with. Only his timing is awful, as he discovers that the night he has booked is the same night that Elvis Presley's Comeback is being televised from Las Vegas. The entire world will be looking elsewhere.

Against advice, Hitler plays the show anyway, and to an audience of three, he performs a play, 'Spy Finkel and the Gormless Rotunda', in which a member of the Reich infiltrates America and discovers its pitiful and horrific daily existence.1 The joke is that Hitler's grandly pompous narrative arc, approaching fifteen hours with the menace of a panzer division's progress through Ukranian frost, is so devoid of entertainment (especially in comparison with Elvis' charm) that no-one could ever sit through it comfortably. But this is dealt with so smugly, that one comes away feeling immense sympathy for the misunderstood auteur of epic plays/mass genocide/ethnic cleansing. The underlying feeling is that this Hitler, failing Austrian painter, is an outsider talent being crushed under the wheels of an ignorant entertainment industry. Fuelled by Nazi bullion and a dream he books a rundown theatre for a year, and continues to play the show to nobody, heroically.

Tony Booth is grandly sypathetic, coaching from the front row every night, convinced that with slight script tweaks and absolute commitment he'll have his hit. John Le Mesurier plays Rommel as a resigned but dutiful right-hand, coping with the Fuhrer's eccentricities and his own alcoholism with suave and offbeat style. His white-suited Rommel is immaculate even when waking from the gutter. They're both too likable and foolish to hate, which somehow seems like the grandest faux pas of all.

And then Nazis fell out of fashion, at least in comedy. Stephen Frears' Somme Girls Are Bigger Than Others (1986) was a late, independent dig, mixing First and Second World War metaphors with death-by-Thatcher northern yearning. But the archetypes live on, and on, perpetrated mostly by English minds 'who have already decided on their place in the world, and it is at the top table.'4

Adolf Hitler '68 Comeback Special Directed by Tom Lancaster Produced by Bert Harris Written by Tom Lancaster, Simon Humphries Starring Tony Booth, John Le Mesurier Rank Organisation Release Date UK: Aug 1974, US:N/A, 104 mins Tagline 'The Most Notorious Act of the Century is Back!'

1. And by Britain, in this case, I mainly mean England. Wales and Scotland have other nationalistic crutches to cling to. The Northern Irish.... well, I'll leave the Northern Irish alone for now.
2. Sam Mendes directed a version of this play on the London stage in 2000. It was restricted eight hours, but received some minor praise.
3 .I quote German thinker Pierre Littbarski: 'The English are forced to use a French term, 'avant-garde', becauser they have no equivalent. Their children are stripped of dangerous thoughts, punished under a grammar hammer. The cleverest English are comedians and popular musicians. Ask an Englishman to name a clever fellow countryman,and they will say Stephen Fry. Or Morissey. 'Yes, that bugger's a smartarse.' Philosophical questions must be framed in these highly accessible forms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. So: navel gazing about the war is restricted to casual romanticism.'
4. George Bernard Shaw.