Thank you, Mr Welles

Reblogging this personal tribute to Orson Welles from 2013. Not many of you will have seen it before.

beetleypete

Orson Welles is considered by many to be the greatest film maker in history. I do not necessarily agree with that, although I do consider him to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His voice alone is worth a career, let alone his charismatic presence in a film.

As a very young man, I was captivated by him on film at the cinema, and on TV, when his films were shown there. His brief appearances in ‘The Third Man’, lift the film totally, and his wry grin steals every scene that he is in. Whatever you might think of him, his talent is surely indisputable, and from an early age, he showed the touch of genius that would characterise his life in cinema. The ensemble cast of his best known films, ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’, and ‘Citizen Kane’, was to follow him throughout his all too short film…

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Film nostalgia

After a brief exchange on Twitter earlier, I decided to reblog this 2015 post about one of my favourite films. Apologies to those of you who have already seen it.

beetleypete

(This is about the 1967 film, not the 2013 remake.)

When I first saw the film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I was fifteen years old. I liked it so much, I went to see it again the following week. I didn’t know a lot about Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway at the time. I had never heard of Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder, or Gene Hackman either. I thought I recognised the strange face of Michael J. Pollard, but I didn’t know where I might have seen it. The man playing the Texas Ranger was Denver Pyle, and I knew him immediately, from old westerns. The same applied to Dub Taylor, who played the father of C.W. Moss in the film.

I had been going to the cinema for as long as I was old enough to sit up straight in the seat. I had seen all kinds of films…

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The Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon 2020

Here is my entry in this month’s blogathon, hosted by https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/
Gill has picked the theme of well-known music artists in acting roles, and I have chosen David Bowie.

This is actually a two-for-one post, as the film co-stars Ryuichi Sakamoto. He also composed the music for the soundtrack, and is a famous musician in his native Japan. To add a third musician to the mix, the theme song from the film, ‘Forbidden Colours’, was sung by David Sylvian.

As a lifelong fan of the music of David Bowie, I eagerly watched all of his acting roles too. When this film came out in 1983, I went to see it at a cinema in London.
***Plot spoilers included***

The story is set during WW2, in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for allied captives. As well as the two stars, we are treated to some excellent supporting actors, including Takeshi Kitano, Tom Conti, and Jack Thompson.

Soon after Major Celliers (Bowie) arrives at the camp, the commandant Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto) develops a fixation on him. Meanwhile, Celliers has become close to the senior British officer, Colonel Lawrence, (Conti) and soon develops a reputation as a troublemaker, and one of the spokesman for the poor conditions that the prisoners have to endure. Despite Celliers outward defiance and rebellious attitude, Yonoi fails to punish him, and it becomes obvious that he has an overwhelming crush on the attractive prisoner. This alarms the Japanese guards, and one urges his commander to kill Celliers, rather than face the shame of discovery.

But Yonoi is unable to do that, and is eventually replaced because of his lack of leadership. His successor is aware of what transpired between Celliers and Yonoi, and immediately informs the prisoner that he can expect no mercy from him. To punish him for disgracing his colleague, Celliers is buried up to his neck in sand, and left to die.

This film is beautifully shot, and the location convincing. As befits a film starring two international recording artists, the soundtrack is simply perfect, and so appropriate for the mood. Both the leads deliver excellent peformances, alongside those supporting actors who are always completely reliable.

Thirty-seven years later, it is still as powerful and interesting as it was in 1983.

Film Review: ‘1917’

‘1917’ (2019)
***No spoilers***

It is not often that I get to see a current film that has just been released in the cinema. But I thought this WW1 epic from Sam Mendes warranted a trip into town to see it on the big screen.

Sadly, my local 3-screen cinema decided to show the film in Screen 3, the smallest one they have. I complained to the ticket lady, saying it should be on Screen One, with has a conventional big-screen experience. She advised me that they were still showing ‘Frozen 2’ on that screen, as ‘It is more popular than war films’.

I suppose that’s what I get for living in Norfolk!

‘1917’ is a war film, set during the latter half of WW1. It has attracted much critical acclaim, and hundreds of positive reviews. I have seen it described as ‘The best war film ever made’, and also ‘A Masterpiece’. For me, it was neither of those. But it is still an excellent film, and well-worth seeing.

The main reason I say that is because the film is shot in an unusual way, and also contains some powerful imagery that will stay in your mind. For those of us used to seeing WW1 films that show huge sweeping frontal attacks, or the effect of shelling on terrified combatants, Mendes offers something different.

Two junior-ranking soldiers are tasked with an incredibly difficult mission. They must get through the abandoned enemy trenches, and past a town still occupied by the Germans. Near that town is a wood, where a British regiment is waiting to attack. That attack must be cancelled, as they are walking into a trap, and will be massacred. There is a reason why one of the soldiers has been chosen. His older brother is serving with the doomed regiment, and that will give him the incentive to get the job done.

From that point on, we follow the journey of the two young men. We do this in a way that makes us feel we are there. The camera is close in on the leads. Face to face, just behind them, or off to the side. It really does feel at times as if you are a ‘third soldier’, as you experience everything in what feels like real time, in one take.

It wasn’t filmed in one take, or in real time, but seamless editing and great camera angles provide that impression for 90% of the film. One of my old friends suggested that this made it feel like a video game. I know what he means. If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ game, it might feel like that. But it wasn’t so for me, and I just felt that it immersed the viewer in the action in a good way.

Concentrating first on the positives, I have to say that historical authenticity was very good indeed. Equipment, uniforms, weapons, all seemed accurate. The reconstruction of the trenches was superbly done, especially the way the film showed how much better the Germans were at constructing more solid and safer trench systems on their side of the line. Special effects are few, but well-done where they are used. Rotting corpses in shell-craters, the decaying carcasses of dead horses, and the tangled mess of the barbed wire. All totally convincing.

The star of the film is the landscape. The war-torn countryside of France, the blackened tree stumps, the desolation of the mud-filled No-Man’s Land, contrasted by the green and pleasnt fields beyond the area being fought over. Definitely the best I have ever seen on screen. A ruined French town, illuminated at night by flares that float slowly to the ground. A burning building making a sound like rushing water. All superb. This film is a treat for the eyes, and a directorial triumph.

Full marks for the casting too. The young male leads are played by George McKay and the fresh-faced Dean-Charles Chapman. McKay is particularly good, and obviously has a great future. Then there are the ‘big names’. Well-known British actors who are more than happy to have just a few minutes on screen. Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard Maddern, and many more. Each one makes the very best of their short scene, and leaves their own mark on the film overall.

So, on to what I was less impressed by.

Despite some wonderful, often eye-popping visuals, and a soundtrack that suited the film perfectly, I just didn’t believe the story. The whole concept of the plot felt contrived, and the fact that one of the soldiers is hoping to save his own brother felt unnecessarily sentimental to me. And that aspect was overplayed throughout, in my opinion. It felt as if Mendes had decided we needed something extra to make us interested in the film, and for us to be suitably invested in the characters. Well, I didn’t. It would have worked for me without that rather obvious sentimentality.

But that’s all. Just that one gripe.

This is a great film in most respects, with a dynamic cast all delivering, and the ‘one-take feel’ alone makes it worth watching.

If you are interested in films about WW1, I will add some links at the end.
Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for ‘1917’.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058263/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050825/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0020629/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regeneration_(1997_film)
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1418646/
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022787/

Watching Films, and Writing Fiction

Ever since I started to publish fictional stories and longer serials on this blog, many readers have asked me where I get the ideas for them. I usually answer that I get the idea for a title as I am walking around aimlessly with my dog Ollie, lost in thought.

That is the truth, in most cases. The title appears in my head for some reason, and I then begin to construct a story, working back from an ending that I imagine suits that title. I have no idea if this is unique to me. For all I know, many of the better-known writers may well have discovered their own inspiration in a similar fashion.

I started to regularly watch films at exactly the same time I began writing short stories. That was a long time ago, when I was around eight years old. Not that I copied the plots of those films for my stories, you understand.
What happened was that I would see the stories in my head, not unlike the way I had just been immersed in watching a film for two hours. My characters would come to life in my mind, with their clothes, faces, expressions, and actions as real to me as if they were on a screen in front of my eyes.

I soon learned that you cannot just transcribe what you see, and make that into a short story, or longer serial. It would be a huge volume. Imagine trying to write down what you saw in just one long scene in your favourite film. Think of how enormous film scripts are, with their movement directions, and descriptions of scenery, reactions, and close-ups.

By the time I had started to work out how to whittle all this down to a readable story, I had grown up, left school, and started work. I had no time to write fiction any longer, and I was eventually married, and embarking on a career as an EMT.

In 2012, I retired, started to blog, and later tried my hand at fiction again, after a gap of more than forty-five years. I had many misfires, and wondered if I had lost any talent for story-telling. Then I remembered how I had seen those stories like films in my youth, and went back to that method. That definitely improved my writing, and resulted in the long serials and short stories that I was publishing by the early part of 2018.

I conclude that I have to thank a lifetime of watching films for enabling me to rejuvenate my love of writing.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Good cartoons.

No idea why, but I woke up thinking about cartoons today.

I know we now have adult cartoon shows, like ‘The Simpsons’, and ‘Family Guy’. Younger adults are also well-served by the Japanese animators, with their amazing imaginations. Kids have Disney Pixar and Nickelodeon, and the tiny ones have things like ‘My Little Pony’ and ‘Paw Patrol’.

But I never see any of the old ‘good cartoons’ anymore. Ones like these.

Or the ones I grew up with.

At the cinema, cartoons always added to the enjoyment.

Many became household names, and endured for decades.

When television came along, we had cartoons to enjoy at home too.

I was happy to watch these into my late teens,and always enjoyed the antics of the familiar characters. But then longer cartoon shows took over, like the awful ‘Scooby-Doo’, ‘Hong Kong Phooey’, and many more. Pop groups like the Jackson 5 had their own cartoon show, and very soon the essence of the short cartoon seemed to have disappeared without trace.

Political correctness, merchandising of associated products, and the power of the networks put an end to the cartoons I had enjoyed for years.

Let me know what cartoons you miss, by leaving a comment.

Film Flops I Have Seen (2)

I am continuing this series of film flops with this completely unnecessary remake, from 2004. As a child, I went to see John Wayne starring in ‘The Alamo’, in 1960. It was a more-or-less factual account of the famous defence of the Alamo Mission in 1836, against the superior Mexican forces led by Generalissimo Santa Anna.

For some reason best known to themselves, Touchstone Pictures, and producer Ron Howard, decided to do a by-the-numbers remake, 44 years later.

They scraped together a decent, if far from stellar cast, including Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid in the main roles. Both leading men had been in far better films, and it is fair to say that both were in the autumn of their film careers. It is also fair to say that the ‘target market’ for such a film had already seen the 1960 original, probably many times. And like me, they undoubtedly retained a fondness for it. Besides that, it was on TV all the time, dirt cheap on DVD, and there was zero demand for it to be remade.

From anyone, anywhere.

Disney refused Howard’s over-optimistic budget, and the original cast members Russell Crowe and Ethan Hawke left during the financial arguments. The director insisted on complete historical authenticity, and many details were changed from the John Wayne version. Deciding on presenting a ‘serious’ view of the Alamo battle proved to be the film’s undoing.

The critics didn’t like it. The public didn’t like it. Too much detail, too much talking, and action sequences that were not as exciting and involving as the 1960 film. With the critical panning, the audiences stayed away in droves. It wasn’t 1960 anymore, and they had all seen bigger and better historical blockbusters. Then there was that John Wayne original. It was undeniably a better film. More stirring, more involving, and overall more exciting.

The film lost a fortune. It cost $107,000,000 to make, and took less than $23,000,000 worldwide, including DVD sales.
That left it at number six, of the all-time film flops.

I watched the film the year after its US release, and can only agree with the critics, and the public. Another pointless remake.

Will they ever learn? I suspect the answer is “No”.