Saturday, 31 January 2009

Bad Dates

(c) John Forgetta

This is dedicated to everyone who has ever been on a bad date. It's from The Meaning of Lila, which from time to time can be quite inspired.

Caught (1949)

For better or for worst, Max Ophüls is a director who keeps surprising me. First, I loved "Letter from an Unknown Woman". Then I disliked, in different degrees, "La Ronde", "Madame de..." and "Libelei". Then I was in awe (still am) of "Lola Montès" (for some reason I thought I had written something on it a few months ago). All of these I saw for the first time on the big screen. Then I rented the DVDs for "The Recless Moment" and "Le Plaisir" and neither made a great impact, except for the two lead performances on the former (Joan Bennett and James Mason). And now "Caught" - and again, I was taken by surprise and I am truly fascinated by it. Why?, you may ask.

I need to summarise the plot. Leonora is a poor young girl from Denver, dreaming big and big money in LA, who meets a millionaire (played by Robert Ryan). He is manipulative and decides to marry her to spite his psychiatrist (such a great premise for a happy life). Only married life is a bit of a disappointment and she decides to leave her husband and get a job as a receptionist at a doctor's surgery and proceeds to fall in love with James Mason's character.

So far, so 1940's Hollywood melodrama. Only it isn't really. Because it's slightly off from the standard of the time. I wouldn't consider it as a film noir, but I think I'm in a minority. It's ambiguous. There is a character who is overtly cruel and on a power trip, and yet we are revealed why Leonora loves him. But here again, we are on shaky ground. We are asked to put our loyalty with a character, played magnificently by Barbara Bel Geddes, who may deep down be much less pure than she, herself, thinks. And the battle for control/independence that is at the heart of the film is something to behold.

Barbara Bel Geddes takes over from Joan Fontaine as the heroine ("Letter..." was Ophüls' previous film) and is simply fantastic as the woman who steadly faces up to a manipulative husband and tries to find her own path in life. And so are James Mason in a atypical hero/love interest sort of role and Robert Ryan in the controling Howard Hughes-inspired milionaire. Ophüls' touches are everywhere. I like some of his camera work, and certainly his mise-en-scene. I lost count on the number of doors closing (on- or offscreen), creating more and more barriers between the characters. But best of all, there's a scene where James Mason's character is talking about Leonora's disappearance after a date with him, and the camera dances around, focusing the empty desk left by the secretary.

I'm not sure if it's better than "Lola Montès" or "Letter from an Unknown Woman", but it did please me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And maybe, just maybe, it might be my new favourite film of Max Ophüls .

Friday, 30 January 2009

Bristol and "Being Human"

A few days ago the BBC showed "Being Human", a series based on a pilot first screened about a year ago as part of the revamping of BBC Three. The show is set in Bristol, so its main charm to me is to spot the locations they’ve used, as with "Teachers" a few years ago, or the odd episode of "Skins" I’ve caught. I lived there for four years, and despite the fact that I was really, really bored of the city by the end, it were four very important years in my life and I got very attached to the place. Actually, since they were shooting "Teachers" while I was there, I managed to spot some of the cast walking around the city, including Andrew Lincoln, who was the lead.

As for the show itself, well… it doesn't really live to expectations. A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a flat in Bristol, and the first two work in a hospital. As with the pilot, the first episode started really well, and then doesn't go very far. Moreover, the cast has (with one exception) and all but one of those changes were for the worst. The one exception was aided by the fact that the character was rewritten for the series. I shall continue watching it, if nothing else to see which other places I can recognise still – I loved "revisiting" the St Nicholas' Market area.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Private Lives (Hampstead Theatre revival)

In 1962, the Hampstead Theatre revived Noël Coward's "Private Lives". At the time, this was a rather interesting choice for the theatre, since Coward was seen as old-fashioned and dated. It was a hit, it transferred to the West End and began what the playwright himself dubbed "Dad's Renaissance" - a revaluation of his work, which included the 1964 revival of "Hayfever" at the National and his last stage appearance in 1965 in "Suite in Three Keys". As part of their 50th anniversary this year, the Hampstead theatre decided to produce it again. Tonight was the first preview and I went with a friend.

The play itself tells the events that follow the accidental meeting of a divorced couple, Amanda and Elyot, on the first night of their honeymoons with new spouses. The moment they see each other the old flame is back on and they escape leaving Amanda's new husband and Elyot's new wife somewhat bewildered. I love this play. It was the first of his I ever read, and I think Act I alone is one of the funniest things ever written, its symmetry reminding me of Wilde's Earnest. And this production doesn't disappoint. Actually the opposite. It surprised me. The director striped it of all the trappings of the cocktail parties and the stylisation of the art deco, placed a bed in the middle of Amanda's studio in Paris and made it something fresh and openly sexy that goes so well with the words, showing how truly modern they are.

The play is on until the end of February and I truly hope it goes to the West End.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Tintin at 80...

Today is 80 since the world's most famous reporter appear for the first time. I read and read all the books, time and time again, and they are still among my favourites.

But for your amusement, here's something from The Times - it seems it cause some controversy in France (see here, here or here if you speak French).

Friday, 9 January 2009

A very minor irritation...

If like me, you're someone who hardly ever loses things (not counting misplacing them in my room and only find them when they're no longer needed *) you get annoyed when you do lose them. Especially when it's freezing cold outside. Especially when you have your woolly hat in your hand when you're on one tube line, and as the doors close on you after you change trains you realise it's no longer there.

So lunch hour task? Go and find a new hat.

* - I did find the missing book...