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Sean Connery

Posted by keith1942 on September 20, 2021

Connery was another film star whose career ended in 2020.  One whose films I mainly enjoyed and whose gravitas, with the Scottish accent, was frequently a memorable experience. Whilst he was a very different character, both in culture and values, his career reminded me of his friend Michael Caine. There were the early years of minor movies and minor roles. Then the breakthrough and a screen image that was sexy and charismatic. This was followed by a long career as a major star with an increasing screen presence, partly due to the longevity and the impressiveness of his roles. Whilst their politics were rather different both generally represented conservative values but also made films which intentionally or not subverted those values. However Connery certainly essayed a wider range of roles and worked more extensively beyond the mainstream. He also often exuded a greater sense of irony whilst Caine often seemed to send himself up.

I saw several of Connery’s early films though I did not mark him out at the time, this included the gripping Hell Drivers (1957). The first time I remember being taken by him was in The Frightened City (1961) which had my favourite black and white cinematography format.

Then came the James Bond titles. I was never that impressed with the cycle. However, he was the most convincing Bond and only Daniel Craig has come close since then. I remember standing outside the ABC cinema in Bournemouth with friends and being entertained as the young men with female companions came out of the cinema clearly trying to emulate the Bond persona.

There was Marnie (1964) from Alfred Hitchcock. I never really liked the film and I have been irritated by the attempts by some Hitchcock fans to explain away the rape sequence. But Connery was ideal as the misogynistic protagonist. The Hill (1965) was a far more interesting film directed by Sydney Lumet. This brought out some of the interesting facets of the on-screen characteristics, including the rebellious streak and the stubborn determination. The Molly Maguires (1970), set in the Pennsylvania coal  mines in the 19th century was excellent, well scripted by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt. This was a powerful trade union story and one that the mainstream US industry has tended to avoid and downplay.

‘The Hill’

The Offence (1972) was again directed by Sidney Lumet and adapted from his own play by John Hopkins. Connery’s regular characteristics were here employed in a vicious and violent interrogation of Ian Bannen’s suspected rapist. Both actors were impressive and the film deserves wider recognition.

Zardoz (1974 was written, produced and directed by John Boorman. Connery played a ‘brutal’, a group dominated by ‘the Eternals’ in a future society. In a complex and sometime complicated plot Zed breaks into the world of the Eternals and disrupts it in numerous ways. Audiences at the time found the film confusing and it was panned by the critics. I was fascinated by the quirky SF story from Boorman and the film looked great with cinematography by Godfrey Unsworth. There was the added bonus of Charlotte Rampling.

In 1975 he appeared in two interesting films. The Wind and the Lion set in early 20th century Morocco as the USA flexes its imperial muscle. But the focus was the contrasting characters of Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (Connery) and Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith). The director John Milius was not really equipped to handle such a colonial episode but Connery, in no way Arabic, is engaging. I however prefer The Man Who Would be King. Taken from a Kipling story; the writer is an imperialist but also has an understanding and sympathy for the great sub-continent. Connery, as Daniel Draviot, is part of a duo with Michael Caine as Peachy Camehan. This is the sort of adventure story in which both actors excel. The director John Huston, with co-writer Gladys Hill, gives the story drama, emotion but also humour. And the landscape looks fine in Oswald Morris’ fine cinematography. The indigenous peoples are merely props for these adventurers but Saeed Jaffrey as Billy Fish is also memorable.

‘The Man Who Would be King’

1976 saw Richard Lester’s film Robin and Marion. This was an ensemble of talents. James Goldman wrote the screenplay, David Watkins provided the cinematography and John Barry the music. Connery was ably supported by an excellent cast including Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw and Nicol Williamson. This is the best version on film of the Robin Hood Legend. The plot develops with real interest and both drama and humour. And the elegiac tone is impressive.

There was a gap of six years before a film that seems equivalent, Five Days One Summer (1982). Fred Zinnemann ably directed this mountaineering film set in the 1930s Alps. Despite poor reviews this was a film for the climbing buff. The accuracy of the representation of mountaineering was no doubt due to the presence of Hamish MacInnes as an advisor and able stand-in on the mountains. The film also has the longest parting between lovers that I can remember.

The Name of the Rose was a credible adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel and a feast of semiotics. Connery’s William of Somerville provided a rational centre in a monastery full of hysterical fundamentalist and misguided believers. The young Christian Slater as Adso provided a youthful foil to Connery.

Then there is the Oscar-winning performance in The Untouchables (1987). This is classic Brian de Palma film with the happy addition of an Ennio Morricone score. Connery’s Irish-American cop is not that Irish but he does have one of the great death scenes in Hollywood films.

The Russia House (1990) is from a John Le Carré novel and it is hard to go wrong with that, especially when Tom Stoppard does the adaptation . It [as usual] lacks the complexity of the original but the unwinding of the jigsaw is fascinating. Michelle Pfeiffer is good as the romantic interest and James Fox is really fine as the British spy master.

Sean Connery’s last film outing that I really rate is Finding Forrester, a fascinating study directed by Gus Van Sant. Connery is the titular writer and recluse. Rob Brown is a young aspiring Afro-American writer. Both are convincing in their very different characters. The treatment of a black artist in a white-dominated culture needs greater depth but the film holds the attention and has a satisfactory finale.

‘Finding Forrester’

Connery had a few films that bombed at the box office but in most cases they were successful. Much of his career was spent in Hollywood productions like The Hunt for Red October (1990). Whilst this and others were very well produced the narratives tended to the conventional. I think his most interesting work was in independent and European films. And the best of these resurface regularly and I am sure that they will continue to do so. There is no doubt about either his star quality or his position in the top film/actor lists.

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Tony Garnett – 3rd April 1936 till 12th January 2020

Posted by keith1942 on January 17, 2020

So Tony Garnett has ended his career as a major critical force in British television and film. He leaves behind an impressive body of work which stands out for its political content and for its successful creation of a distinct British social realism. The tributes on radio and television have tended to refer to the famous productions: Cathy Come Home (BBC 1966), Kes (1969) and Law and Order (BBC 1978 ). For me the most memorable work which he produced was the BBC mini-series Days of Hope (1975).

I was fortunate to see and hear Tony Garnett at an event organised by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) at the Unity+Works in Wakefield. The Unity+Works was a converted Co-op building close to the railway station; now sadly gone. The event was well attended, say close to a 100.

The afternoon opened with Tony Garnett talking about his new ‘autobiography’: ‘The Day the Music Died: a Memoir’ (subtitled ‘A Life Lived Behind the Lens’, Constable, London 2016). This was the first time I had heard Garnett live and he was an able speaker with a passionate concern for working class expression. He was the most interesting contributor to the film Versus:. . . (2016) on the life and work of his regular collaborator Ken Loach. At Unity+Works he talked about the book and certain sections from it. It opens with his early life in Birmingham, I recognised many of the settings he mentioned. To learn about ‘the day the music died’ you need to look at the book, but it clearly was a significant event in Garnett’s life. As you might expect he talked about some of the deservedly famous television and film productions on which he has worked. These included Up the Junction (BBC 1965, in ‘The Penny Drops’ in the memoir), Cathy Come Home (BBC 1966, in the Chapter with same title), Kes (1969, in ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’) and The Spongers (BBC 1978, in the Chapter of same title). He included some droll stories about the people he worked with on these. He also talked about the BBC and in particular the MI5 vetting system that operated there.

He then took some questions. The most intriguing concerned his relations with the Socialist Labour League, later to morph into the Workers Revolutionary Party, (see ‘Protest and Confusion’). It seems that Tony hosted a series of discussion evenings at his place for people on the left in London. Gerry Healey, the leader of the SLL came along. His organisation was famous for some of the members, including Vanessa and Corin Redgrave. Trevor Griffith describes something of this ilk in his play ‘The Party’ (1973). I saw it at the Oxford Playhouse, a witty presentation. All of the audience laughed at certain lines, but some other lines only received laughter from one part of the audience: my friend and I identified, for different responses, groups from the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party.  Garnett’s was a fascinating and rewarding talk. In the break the CPBF stall sold and unfortunately ran out of copies of the Memoir. Mine later arrived in the post.

The second part was a tribute to the writer and activist Barry Hines, who died in . We heard from his widow Eleanor, from fellow writer Ian Clayton, from Granville Williams of the CPBF and again from Tony Garnett. He summed up Barry’s stance to his work:

“Socialism without art is dead: it is also dangerous.”

Whilst the speaker paid their tributes a montage of stills from Barry’s television and film work played on the screen behind: including Kes, The Price of Coal, and Threads (1984). The CPBF has  produced a pamphlet Celebrating his Life and Work (CPBF (North) with pieces from his fellow artists and activists.

The afternoon was rounded off with a screening of Meet the People (BBC 1977), the first part of The Price of Coal. The Hall had  a large screen and good sound. The play was full of recognisable tropes from the work of Barry Hines, Tony Garnett and Ken Loach. There was the authentic voice and sense of culture of the northern working class. There was the pointed but well dramatised class conflict, embodied by believable characters. And there was also a wry sense of humour and irony, more so that in many the productions authored by this talented trio.

‘The Price of Coal’

Now Ken Loach is probably the most well-known name of this group. I do think that Loach’s most political work, alongside Days of Hope, we had The Big Flame (1969),. was with Tony Garnett and writer Jim Allen. But all three were collaborative film-makers rather than ‘auteurs’; an aspect that has been strong in British film over the years; combining craft and political discourse.

Tony Garnett actually had a sojourn in the USA and work connected to Hollywood. I have only seen Handgun (1983), which aimed to dissect a relation between rape and gun culture. It unfortunately tended to the voyeuristic, the result of Garnett attempting to marry a social realist style, a political theme and the demands of mainstream film company EMI who re-edited the film..

His British work suffered from censorship and prejudice. Days of Hope actually was attacked in a Times Editorial. Conservative members of the BBC hierarchy and of the political parties often held forth. And believe it or not, when Tony Garnett was the producer of Loach’s The Save the Children Fund Film (1969) their work was suppressed for 40 years.

Garnett’s ‘Memoir’ is the best obituary to his life and work. He combines fascinating personal memories with descriptions of his production for film and television. Hopefully the works of Garnett [and of Barry Hines] will continue to circulate in the years to come. A major voice has been lost in the British media.

NB Part of this tribute is from a post on the CPBF meeting in Wakefield.

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Oscar R.I.P.

Posted by keith1942 on August 22, 2018

Born 18 May 203; adopted 16 December 2015; passed on 22 August 2018.

A faithful companion through many ling walks, both in sunshine and inclement weather.

To be honest he slept through most of the films that I watched at home; they included digital and 16mm. He occasionally woke up, as in the climatic sequence of Lassie (2005).

He passé on in a manager similar to Marley & Me (2008).

He will be missed, especially  in my evening walk and on return, checking the sofa when I switch on the DVD Player.

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Obituaries, June 2015

Posted by keith1942 on June 13, 2015

There is an old saying, ‘deaths come in threes’. It certainly seems o this week, with three important names in the world of cinema.

 

As Mycroft Holmes

As Mycroft Holmes

Christopher Lee; I was amazed at how long was the list of his screen appearances on IMDB. He played not only in many films but also in several film industries. The newspapers are already ‘identifying’ his key roles. Mine are all early in his career. There affine later performances but in the early days he appeared in key and fine films.

There are the great Hammer horrors:

The Curse of Frankenstein 1957.

The Hounds of the Baskervilles 1959,

Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966.

I saw all of them in the cinema whilst reviewers worried over my moral corruption. My taste in horror was settled in those films and their performances.

The Wicker Man (1973) sort of subverted hammer though I always thought the film was overrated, but Lee was its best feature along with the cinematography in the final sequence; by Harry Waxman.

And then there was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). This is the finest portrayal of the great detective on film: but then it was written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond and directed by Wilder.

Ron Moody with Oliver Reed.

Ron Moody with Oliver Reed.

Ron Moody: he also made a number of films but, for me, it is one performance that stands out: his Fagin in Oliver! (1968). The character is problematic in terms of prejudicial representation of Jewish people, (also true in the book). The BBC played an interview clips with Moody this morning. He said when the film came out he was most nervous about review that would appear in ‘The Jewish Chronicle’. To his relief the review stated that the film was ‘suitable family viewing’. He opined that this was the apogee of critical terms in the Chronicle.

Ornette Coleman.

Ornette Coleman.

Finally Ornette Coleman, a jazz rather than film performer. In fact he was one of the truly great innovators and performers in Jazz. Surely one of his recordings should be included in a desert island ten. However he scored one very appropriate film, The Naked Lunch (1991). And along with the recordings there is a film portrait, Ornette Coleman: Made in America (1985).

All will be missed. And I shall watch or listen to all three over the coming week. Especially Coleman who was the most active in recent years.

 

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Dusty R.I.P.

Posted by keith1942 on November 12, 2014

Dusty 2014

Passed on last Monday – faithful companion for seventeen years. He liked long walks. But he also patiently lay [or slept] through countless films on video and also through the ocassional 16mm.

Among the many were those of Dziga Vertov, Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Naruse Mikio, Jean-Luc Godard, Jorge Sanjines, Menelik Shabazz, Mani Ratnam and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. And he was familiar with Lilian Gish, Jimmy Stewart, Kathleen Byron, Takamine Hideko, Dirk Bogarde, Isabelle Hubert, Al Pacino, Shahrukh Khan and Emmanuelle Riva.

He also helped on my Dogs on Film talks – though sadly advancing age prevented him sitting in.

Much missed.

 

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