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.'