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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Donald Cammell. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Frank Mazzola, 1935 - 2015

Frank with his daughter Francesca
It grieves me to report the sad news that my friend Frank Mazzola, who became one of the most influential film editors of his generation by virtue of his re-edit of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's PERFORMANCE (1970), died on January 13, 2015, at the age of 79. The following obituary was written by Catherine Mazzola. It is a wonderful tribute to a great man.

Frank was born and raised in the heart of Hollywood surrounded by the film business, his father being the first contract player at Fox Studios. Frank worked as a child actor, appearing in such films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) starring Charles Laughton, Always in My Heart (1942) with Walter Huston, Casablanca (1942), and Joseph Losey's The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Frank went on to study acting with Stella Adler and Jeff Corey and did theater at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. He was cast in a part of a high school student in Elia Kazan's East of Eden (1955) before being accepted into the University of Oregon on an athletic scholarship. Frank left Hollywood behind but only briefly.

On a school break, he auditioned for a role and was cast as "Crunch" in Rebel Without A Cause (1955), directed by Nicholas Ray and starring then-unknown James Dean. Because of his reputation from his days in the Hollywood High club, The Athenians, Frank was approached by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, Rebel's producer, to help recreate a reality about rebellious teens from middle class families. Frank was given an office at Warner Brothers, and according to Rolling Stone magazine, "he ended up helping director Nick Ray and screenwriter Stewart Stern shape Rebel into an accurate piece of 1955 sociology." Frank was instrumental in selecting Jimmy's '49 Merc and his famous red jacket, which was not unlike the original Athenian club jackets; and one of the Nick Ray biographies quotes, "...the knife duel between Jim and Buzz (Corey Allen) was staged with the aid of Frank Mazzola." Nick summed it up by signing a Rebel poster with a personal note of thanks, "For Frank Mazzola who helped so much to make the texture of Rebel into a living reality."

Having participated in the creative aspects of production on Rebel, Frank decided to pursue his love of film from behind the camera. Inspired by Nick Ray and David Weisbart, who had edited A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Frank chose editing to learn the process of filmmaking. As an assistant at Universal Studios, he was involved with Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). Following, he assisted at Fox Studios and The Mirish Corp., learning some of his most valuable lessons from working with Ralph E. Winters as the first assistant on Blake Edwards' The Party (1968). After creating artistically beautiful and complicated montages that received excellent reviews, Frank began his career as an editor on films such as Macho Callahan (1970), Stiletto (1969), and a re-edit of La Piscine (1969).

Frank was then sought out by film director Donald Cammell to create montages and re-edit Performance (1970), a film that was sitting on the shelf at Warner Brothers. Frank's work with Donald on Performance (1970) led to the film's release. It went on to receive cult classic status and according to The British Film Institute, "Performance is one of the most extraordinary British films, and arguably the greatest."

Frank's career as an editor excelled from this point forward with films such as Peter Fonda's directorial debut, The Hired Hand (1971), Donald Cammell's Demon Seed (1977), and A Woman Called Moses (1978) starring Cicely Tyson with narration by Orson Welles. The Second Coming of Suzanne (1974), which Frank co-produced and edited, won three of the top ten awards at The Atlanta Film Festival including the gold medal for editing.

Frank loved the artistry and creativity of filmmaking. As Rex Reed wrote in The New York Daily News, "Frank Mazzola, the excellent film editor, has attempted to do something different with film." Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic wrote, "Mazzola has used almost the whole contemporary editing vocabulary." Other reviewers have written that Frank is, "a master craftsman at film editing," he "creates a perfect sense of pacing," and his "montage sequences rate spontaneous audience applause." As quoted from the Stratford Film Festival: "The exhilarating beauty of the color cinematography and visual wizardry of the many montage sequences establish cinematographer Isadore Mankofsky and editor/montage artist Frank Mazzola as two of the world’s finest artists in their respective fields."

In 1999 Frank completed production on restoring and editing a Donald Cammell short, The Argument (1999). Video Watchdog wrote "the film is a surreal gem...abandoned, once lost, now found, The Argument, like the Phoenix, has been reborn." The screening of the short became the catalyst for Tartan Films and London's Channel 4, to join forces with Frank on the restoration of The Director's Cut of Donald Cammell's Wild Side (2000). Following the Wild Side premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Perhaps the most remarkable event of the festival has been Wild Side, the last film by the late Donald Cammell, presented in a radically new director's cut, lovingly prepared by editor and long-time associate Frank Mazzola...Under Mazzola's microsurgery, it emerges as classic cinema..."

In addition to Frank's behind the camera career, he has appeared in numerous documentaries about Donald Cammell and James Dean, most notably Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, the American Masters series, James Dean: Sense Memories and as a special guest on Larry King Live.

Throughout his life and career, Frank remained committed to the dedication of his time and creative energy as an independent force in maintaining film as an art form.

Services will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 31st at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood. In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation fund has been set up by Frank's oldest daughter at IndiegogoLife/FrankMazzola Memorial Fund. 

https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/frank-mazzola-memorial-fund

With Affection,
Catherine and Francesca

Monday, March 2, 2009

Diarmid Cammell, 1945-2009

Today I received the incomparably sad news that Donald Cammell’s youngest brother, Diarmid Cammell, died this past Friday, February 27, at the age of 63. Becky and I both were fortunate to meet Diarmid some years ago, spending a couple of memorable occasions with him over bottles of fine wine, during the research phase of our book on Donald. We spoke to him on the phone many times during our research, during which he would frequently regale us with stories of his father, Charles Richard Cammell (1890-1968), whom he adored. I suspect that Diarmid’s appearance in this world was something of an unexpected surprise for his father, Charles Richard Cammell, who at the time of his youngest son’s birth was a few months shy of 55 years old; Diarmid’s mother, Iona, was in her mid-40s. Perhaps he was conceived during a celebration toward the end of the second world war.

Reading our book, however, one would think that Diarmid had very little to say about his famous brother, but that was due to Diarmid’s demand that we remove all references to him, and quotes by him, just prior to the book’s publication in April 2006, due to his extreme dislike of the controversial theory we put forth in our book, that his brother Donald suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the result of being sexually molested as a small boy. Diarmid demanded that we remove all references to the years of his youth, when he was a successful child actor on stage and in film, his later career as a photographer in both the UK and Europe, and his personal views of Donald’s films—he loved Demon Seed, thinking it Donald’s best film, had never seen White of the Eye, and detested Performance—he had a strong dislike of Mick Jagger based on a brief run-in with the rock star in the mid-60s, during an occasion when Donald had invited Mick to visit his parent’s home. We were allowed to include in our book a brief mention of his troubling and debilitating mental illness, but beyond this and very few other instances, very little mention of Diarmid remains in the published version of our book. But his views and insights are, nonetheless, reflected throughout, and he was an essential source of information and of contacts.

Diarmid Victor Charles Cammell was born in London on 21 July 1945, the third and youngest child of Charles and Iona Cammell. A precociously gifted child, he achieved early renown as a child actor, appearing on the London stage in one of Robert Bolt’s first plays, The Flowering Cherry (1958), which starred Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson (and, later, Wendy Hiller), at age 12. Subsequently, he appeared in the Boulting Brothers’ sex comedy A French Mistress (1960), starring the French sex kitten Agnes Laurent, although was mistakenly billed in the film’s credits as David Cammell. He later appeared in an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Disney, The Prince and the Pauper: The Pauper King (1962). He also appeared on some LP recordings of medieval British plays issued in the early 1960s. When I asked him about his career as a child actor, he dismissed the whole thing, saying it was an “embarrassment,” and refused to talk about it.

In late adolescence, he developed a mental illness that plagued him the rest of his life. He told me it was manic-depression, and after one particularly violent episode, he was jailed for his behavior. One person told us she remembered him ranting he had “the power of God,” while another told us he at times could hardly care for himself. Certainly he had some form of mania, based on the anecdotes Donald’s friends and acquaintances related. In an email one time he referred to his illness as “the curse” of his existence. But in the 1960s, he became a reasonably good photographer, living for a time in France with Patrick and Mijanou Bauchau, whom he spoke very highly of, and for a short time with Donald and Deborah in Paris, this prior to Donald and Deborah’s break-up late in 1967. As I understand it, his first marriage failed; his second marriage also failed, but a lovely child was born, Karima. Because of his second marriage, he spent the majority of his life in the United States, in and around the Bay Area of San Francisco. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, studying both Arabian culture and the Arabic language; he would later serve as translator of Arabic texts for various scholarly studies.

I first met him in a pub in Berkeley in 1999, accompanied by his brother David, whom I had arranged to meet in San Francisco earlier that day. The night I met him, Diarmid was in fine form. He spoke of his brother Donald’s film career, insisting that Donald should never have given up painting, for which his talents were ideally suited. He talked about staying up all night helping Donald prepare for his first painting exhibition, in London in 1959. He strongly disliked Performance, claiming that the reason the film couldn’t get released was because Mick Jagger couldn’t act, which is why Jagger is in the film for so little of its running time (a controversial thesis, to be sure). He claimed on the first night I met him, and many times after, that he thought Donald’s finest film was Demon Seed, which he greatly admired; he hadn’t seen White of the Eye, and I don’t believe he ever saw it, or Wild Side, either. He spoke fondly of his visits to Los Angeles when he would stay with Donald and China in that little house on the hill on Crescent Drive, saying that he always appreciated the fact that on the occasion of his visits, Donald would always have fine bottles of red French wine available for consumption. But there was an age difference between the two, of eleven years, and Donald’s life took a much different direction than his. I believe the age difference separated him emotionally from his older brothers; brotherly love was there, but they were not extremely close.

Our BPD thesis, as put forth in our biography of Donald, both offended and angered him. As one who—despite his mental illness—believed in good old Cartesian common sense, he found our BPD thesis an instance of what he said was the “liberal disease” and thought that we had utterly no idea what his brother Donald was all about. He demanded that all references to him, and all quotations by him, be removed. But it is important to know that Diarmid was extremely conservative: he was, for instance, the English translator of Jean-Francois Revel’s post-9/11 attack on European complacency in the face of terrorism, Anti-Americanism (2003), a book whose purpose was to defend America against its European detractors. (Revel is famous for authoring many years ago the book Without Marx or Jesus, a positive social critique of the America of the 1960s.) Diarmid became a conservative reactionary in his final years, but then again, according to many individuals we interviewed during the writing of our book, so did his brother Donald.

According to Diarmid’s very good friend, Carol Staswick—a lovely person who wrote us this afternoon with the news of his death—Diarmid realized he had liver problems by the spring of last year and had made a valiant effort to get well. But it may have been too late, and in any case, after some months without alcohol, he went somewhat manic, and that drove him back to the wine, and to developing an alternative theory about his physical condition. He was never quite normal, she said, since some time in September of last year. I found some comfort in Carol’s observation that Diarmid seemed to be at peace with his life, and despite his illness he said he had enjoyed the past year. When she finally called the ambulance, several days ago, things went very fast, which, she said, “was merciful.” Diarmid died this past Friday, February 27, 2009.

She told us, though, that despite his frustration with our BPD thesis, Diarmid read our book and found it quite well done, and had meant to write us praising it, but alas, he never did; nor shall he ever. The last I spoke to him was probably three years ago this month. I feel deeply saddened by the news of his death; as I write these words, I feel like lead. I am thinking of his father’s second book of memoirs, Heart of Scotland (1956), in which he proudly speaks of his son Diarmid’s birth, and his son’s love of all things Scottish. And now I write of his death. I can think only of a paraphrase of the statement made by the Beat comedian Lord Buckley many years ago, that people are the flowers of life. Diarmid Cammell was one of the more unusual, but lovely, flowers I have happened to come across in this, the short stroll in the garden that we call our life. A wonderful photo of Diarmid as a young man can be found here, on his lovely daughter’s, Karima’s, blogspot, a site which I only found today. I’m so glad I did.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Nabokov Letter

In my and Rebecca’s book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006), we discussed Donald Cammell’s proposed film of Vladimir Nabokov’s “unfilmable” novel, Pale Fire (1962). As his biographers, we were told of a letter Donald had received from the famed author regarding Donald’s proposed adaptation of the novel, but the letter written by Nabokov—of which Donald was justly proud—was never recovered during the many years my wife Rebecca and I worked on our book, which went to press three years ago this month.

We are happy to report, however, that the letter from Vladimir Nabokov to Donald Cammell was discovered by David Cammell, Donald’s brother, just a couple of months ago, in December 2008, among his personal papers. During the writing of our biography, David assured us of the letter’s existence because he’d read it—but was unable to locate it despite his best efforts. Although the letter now has been found, its discovery, obviously, has occurred too late for inclusion in our book. And yet, now that the letter has been recovered, happily it is available for all the world to see. Although all of the late author’s work is closely guarded, Dmitri Nabokov has kindly given his permission for the letter to be distributed in cyberspace. We are deeply grateful to him for granting permission. If anyone wants confirmation of this permission, you may contact Dr. Stephen Blackwell, Professor of Russian at the University of Tennessee—Knoxville and moderator of the NABOKV-L discussion boards, with whom Dmitri Nabokov is in close communication. I have discussed Donald’s proposed adaptation at length on the NABOKV-L, and a copy of the letter was sent to all list members who wanted one.

Becky and I were mildly surprised by the date of the letter—July 30, 1971—as the treatment Donald had written of Pale Fire—the treatment we have a copy of and have read, anyway—is dated May 1974. Although we knew he was always at work on various film projects, we were confident that during the 1970-71 period Donald was entirely focused on a film project titled Ishtar (not to be confused with the Dustin Hoffman-Warren Beatty film released in 1987). But it is now clear that he had begun thinking of adapting Pale Fire during this period, perhaps even earlier. Donald admired Lolita and also Kubrick's film adaptation of it, and also admired Nabokov's novel Despair, filmed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1978. In July 1971, when the letter was received, Donald and Myriam Gibril were living in David Cammell’s flat on Old Church Street in Chelsea, literally just around the corner from Mick Jagger. Somehow, the letter must have subsequently remained in David’s flat, over the years eventually getting mixed in with David’s other papers, only to resurface thirty-seven years later, and almost thirteen years after Donald’s death in April 1996. As Nabokov was not profligate of praise, we can certainly understand why Donald was so proud of the letter. Below is a copy of the heretofore unpublished, and largely unknown, letter. Although Nabokov suggests a possible meeting, I am quite sure that no meeting ever took place between the two men.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Altamont

In contrast to December 7 1941—the date “which will live in infamy,” the day the Japanese navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—which shall be commemorated today, the date of December 6 1969, the day of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, went unacknowledged yesterday by the American mass media. Given that yesterday marked that notorious event’s 40th anniversary, it is strange (hypocritical?) there was no mention of it, given the deluge of Woodstock 40th anniversary commemorations and product tie-ins that occurred this year. The only acknowledgements of the Altamont concert of which I’m aware are last week’s issue by Criterion of the Maysles’ Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter (1970) on Blu-ray Disc, and the box set released last month revisiting the Rolling Stones’ late 1969 U. S. tour, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones In Concert—40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set (cover pictured). Otherwise, the event has gone unremarked so far as I know.

The infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival was held on Saturday, December 6 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. Headlined by The Rolling Stones, the concert also featured Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ironically, The Grateful Dead, which helped organize the event and were supposed to play, declined the opportunity to perform once the violence got out of hand. Since there was no commemoration of Altamont in the media over the weekend, I’ve excerpted below my and Becky’s discussion of the event, taken from our co-authored book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006). Our discussion below is taken from the word file we submitted for publication, and therefore may not precisely match the version that was printed in our book. Our remarks about Altamont occur in the context of the U. S. release of Performance, starring Mick Jagger, in August 1970.

More than half a year had passed since The Rolling Stones’ tour had culminated sensationally at Altamont on 6 December 1969, but the notoriety of that violent event was still resonating in the media. The Maysles Brothers’ documentary of the last ten days of that tour, Gimme Shelter, was not released until 6 December 1970. The Criterion Collection DVD of Gimme Shelter, released in 2000, included outtakes; among them, filmed backstage at Madison Square Garden on 27 or 28 November 1969, is footage of Tina Turner and Mick Jagger looking at what possibly is an issue of Rolling Stone. Tina Turner is struck by a picture of Mick Jagger in his Harry Flowers guise, telling Mick she’s definitely going to have to see the movie when it comes out. Someone off-camera asks, “What’s the name of the movie?” It would become clear in less than a year that Performance wasn’t just another “movie.”

We are told that in later years, although Donald had helped the Maysles Brothers with Gimme Shelter, he lamented his contribution was traduced by them. The violence that occurred during the concert at Altamont Speedway transformed Gimme Shelter from a mere concert film into something much different. The event actualized—Donald’s term—an aspect of Mick Jagger’s ambiguous persona that Performance didn’t so much create as reveal. Donald later claimed to have done some editing on Gimme Shelter, and while the late Charlotte Zwerin was most certainly a superb film editor, we have no reason to doubt Donald’s claim. Whether Donald performed actual, “hands on,” editing of the film, or was consulted in order to suggest a cutting strategy, we cannot say. Some unused footage was shot in London in early 1970, but we have not been able to determine, how, or in what way Donald participated in that shooting, if he did at all. He was still in London in January and February 1970; the re-edit of Performance had not yet begun. He may not have become involved until later that year, after he finished the re-edit of Performance around the first of May. Donald is given thanks in the credit scroll at the end of the film, though he apparently felt his contribution deserved more than such a perfunctory acknowledgement. Subsequently, although Myriam Gibril indicates Donald remained friends with the Maysles and would try to hook up with them whenever he was in New York, privately his estimation of their friendship had changed. Perhaps he should have known better: don’t get your personal relations mixed up in business.

Pauline Kael attacked Gimme Shelter in a notorious review published in The New Yorker. The Maysles wrote a response, but at the time The New Yorker did not publish letters, so their letter remained unseen by the general public until 1998. The Maysles’ letter refers to the “ambiguous nature of the Stones’ appeal” and the “complexity…of Jagger’s double self…his insolent appeal and the fury it can and in fact does provoke.”* Yet these insights were as much Donald’s as the Maysles’. They are simply reading in Gimme Shelter what already had been revealed in Performance, which had preceded Gimme Shelter in the movie theaters by four months (and was in the can over a year before Altamont). Donald had long recognized the ambiguous allure of Mick Jagger, believing Mick Jagger to be infinitely more interesting—and more dangerous—as a rock icon than, say, Elvis Presley, who dared to do nothing provocative with his masculinity. Indeed, Donald thought Jagger was much more daring in the deliberately ambiguous display of his sexuality. Of course, Donald had great respect for Brian Jones also, and most certainly Mick had taken a few lessons from Brian Jones about the self as art. “[Mick’s] dilemma is that he knows what he’s into.” Donald said. “He knows about the violence. This movie [Performance] was finished before Altamont, and Altamont actualized it.”

*The Maysles’ letter was eventually published in Kevin Macdonald and Mark Cousins, Eds., Imagining Reality, p. 394.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Clues And Contradictions: Where's John Lennon's White Rolls Royce? Part One

Guest blogger Eric Roberts provides a summary of the search for the whereabouts of John Lennon's White Rolls Royce (EUC 100C) that has taken much of our time the past few months.




1. THE STORY SO FAR

There have been unexpected twists, revelations and red herrings in this collaborative search for the current owner of John & Yoko's famous white Rolls Royce and its whereabouts.

The trail began with Sam & Rebecca Umland's original research for their book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006), in which they mentioned that it was John Lennon's white Rolls Royce (EUC 100C) used in the final sequence of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's Performance (filmed 1968; released 1970). After reading Sam's blog entry The Ballad of John & Yoko's Rolls, I was intrigued and immediately commenced digging for any relevant data.

Suspicion first fell on Phil Spector, due to a statement by Plastic Ono Band drummer, Alan White, that in 1970, Lennon handed Spector the keys to EUC 100C at the conclusion of the Imagine sessions. The fact that Lennon's friend and producer still owns a vintage white Rolls Royce added weight to White's recollections. However, Telegraph journalist Mick Brown cast doubt on this theory by commenting that Spector never indicated during the course of several interviews that his white Roller once belonged to John Lennon. On the contrary, Mick was specifically told that the limousine that ferried him from his hotel to Phil Spector's mansion in Los Angeles was a "1965 Silver Cloud III," not a Phantom V. On closer inspection, Spector's 1965 Rolls Royce appears smaller and less spacious  than a top-of-the-range Phantom V.

Phil Spector's 1965 Silver Cloud III
1965 Phantom V
You'll notice the more rakish lines of the Silver Cloud, as if intended for younger, sportier members of the aristocracy. By contrast, the Phantom V is like a ship on wheels. Speed isn't the main priority: it's all about gracefulness, stability, and spectatorship. Solid, reassuring and very British, the 1965 Rolls Royce Phantom V was the epitome of English craftsmanship, a special state of refinement, one perhaps no longer permissible or possible in the 21st Century. Only 500 were ever made.

Moreover, EUC 100C has several features that distinguish it from Spector's Roller.  As Sam has pointed out, early on, Lennon had a communications antenna installed on the roof above the windshield. Later, a pair of vents were added. These were not present when the car appeared in Performance, shot in 1968, but do appear in the Apple Records promotional video, "The Ballad of John & Yoko," released the following year. Also, if you look closely at the downshot below, you can just make out the outlines of what appears to be a sunroof. (Click on image to enlarge.)


These modifications are not apparent in the photo of the white Rolls Royce in Phil Spector's driveway. Likewise, they are lacking in shots of the white '65 Phantom V in the Tebo Auto Collection in Colorado which is unambiguously attributed to Lennon. So the question remains: Where is EUC 100C?

For a list of previous threads on this topic, click here.

PART ONE OF TWO PARTS

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Now In Its 20th Year

Today, over on his WatchBlog, Tim Lucas announced that Donna had informed him VIDEO WATCHDOG has officially entered its twentieth year of publication. Donna remembers receiving the copies of VW #1 from the publisher on June 15, 1990, nineteen years ago yesterday. That bit of news prompted me to think about my and Becky’s long association with the venerable magazine, and I realized that our association with VIDEO WATCHDOG has now entered its twelfth year: our first reviews for the magazine were published in VW #45 (May/June 1998), eleven years ago last month (cover pictured). We have therefore been involved with the ‘DOG for over half of its life. Becky and I have cherished our association with the magazine, primarily because it has been one of the happiest and more fulfilling activities of our professional lives.

I remember sending an email to Tim very early in 1998 saying Becky and I would love the opportunity to review for the magazine, and asking if he would be both interested, and willing, to have us send our reviews of the Criterion Collection laser discs of THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) and VICTIM (1961), issued by Criterion at the same time in December 1997. As I recall, he responded to my email rather quickly, saying sure, he would be happy to consider publishing our reviews of these discs—but they would be considered merely as “spec” reviews, meaning there was no guarantee they would be accepted for publication. I wrote back saying I was delighted that he had agreed to consider reading our reviews, and also that I perfectly well understood that he, as editor, had the right to reject them. But secretly I was very sure he wouldn’t.

And he didn’t. A couple of weeks after I first initiated contact, I sent him our reviews of those discs, and happily, he accepted them for publication, thus beginning our long association with the magazine. In his email accepting them, he asked me if there were any feature articles we might be interested in writing for VW. I wrote back telling him that we would love to write a piece on the EVIL DEAD trilogy, a proposal that he thought was a great idea, and one we later wrote for the magazine. Moreover, given the fact that the “blood red” edition of EVIL DEAD 2 had been recently issued on laser disc, he asked us to review that LD as well. So those three laser discs—the “blood red” LD issue of EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN, THE NIGHT PORTER, and VICTIM, were our first unholy three published in VIDEO WATCHDOG. We still have those laser discs, but they are now, a mere eleven years later, artifacts of a now moribund era of home video. They are not without a little monetary value, of course, especially for collectors, despite being a form of déclassé technology. But I strongly suspect that Becky and I will always hold on to those discs, because they represent our very first association with VIDEO WATCHDOG. I remember times, early on, when the VHS and LD reviewers for VW were Tim, longtime contributor John Charles, Kim Newman, and Becky and me, with Douglas E. Winter doing soundtrack reviews and, as I recall, Anthony Ambrogio writing the book reviews. Soon after, by the next year, I think, Richard Harland Smith had joined on, and The Kennel continued to grow from there. We have learned and profited from the writing of all the contributors to VIDEO WATCHDOG, and are delighted to be among such esteemed company. Through our association with VW, Becky and I were able to meet some people who would later help us considerably with our book on Donald Cammell, including David Del Valle and Brad Stevens. Just a few years ago, I was able to meet Richard Harland Smith in Los Angeles, when he stopped by to see the Drkrm.com exhibition of art from the Corman Poe films that David Del Valle had arranged and curated. Thus, my and Becky’s association with VIDEO WATCHDOG has been to our great professional advantage, among other benefits, including allowing us the opportunity to meet new friends.

We didn’t actually meet Tim and Donna until several years later, in July of 2006, when we swung through Cincinnati on our way back from Montreal, where we’d attended the official North American release of our book, DONALD CAMMELL: A LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE. Accompanied by our young son John, Becky and I enjoyed a memorable evening of laughter and conversation with Tim and Donna, the kind of evening that made me wish we lived closer together, a sentiment that I know Tim has expressed as well. (You can read all about our meeting in his WatchBlog entry of July 17, 2006.) Tim and I are very close to the same age, although I’ve always prided myself in being the oldest (“senior”) member of the current VW Kennel—and how often does a person brag about being older than his peers?

So here’s to you, Tim and Donna, and the first nineteen years of VIDEO WATCHDOG! Becky and I have thoroughly enjoyed our association with you and your venerable magazine, thank you for the opportunities you have given us, and look forward to its continuation as long as you wish to pursue publishing it. We also look forward to spending another evening or two (or ten) of conversation and laughter with you, accompanied by fine food and wine, of course, and the pleasure of the company of friends we just don’t see often enough. Alas. And here’s to all of our fellow Kennel members as well, with whom we’ve often disagreed, but always learned, and been frequently astonished by the range and scope of your erudition.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Interview

Finally having begun reading the essays in Kevin M. Flanagan’s important edition, Ken Russell: Re-Viewing England’s Last Mannerist (Scarecrow Press, 2009), it occurred to me that I had forgotten all about mentioning the interview he conducted with Becky and me about our Donald Cammell book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (2006). The interview was published several months ago in the e-journal Kevin co-edits, The Modest Proposal: A Journal of Books, Opinion, and Comment. I’ll have more to say about his recent book on Ken Russell at a later date, but at any rate, the latest edition of the fine e-journal Kevin co-edits, The Modest Proposal, is available here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

Most certainly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) made Arthur C. Clarke the most famous science fiction writer in the world. I’m not claiming that he was the best nor even the greatest—although for many he is the very epitome of the SF writer—but unquestionably he was the most famous, a simple matter of fact. His closest rival in that regard may be Ray Bradbury. My personal tastes gravitate toward SF authors such as Philip K. Dick and J. G. Ballard, but it was the writing of Arthur C. Clarke that initially drew me to science fiction decades ago.

When I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, I was at the impressionable age of fourteen. As everyone knows, although the one sheet of 2001: A Space Odyssey promoted the film as a Cinerama presentation, it wasn’t, of course, projected in movie theaters in true Cinerama. But for me that’s a moot point, anyway, because I didn’t see it in Super Panavision 70, what MGM was then calling Cinerama; in fact, I never have seen it in that format--and never will. I first saw it at the drive-in, of all places, and, subsequently, in the years after, during its re-release, in 35mm prints. And yet despite the less than ideal venue in which I first saw it, the film so profoundly captured my imagination that I subsequently went back to see it again, perhaps five or six times. What did I care whether it was at the drive-in? I would have gone to see it anywhere. Its power is not simply in its images, but in its ideas--and its music.

The soundtrack to 2001 became the first album I ever purchased (with my own money). I had saved up my allowance, and of all the albums on the racks—albums by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Association, Vanilla Fudge, Tommy James and the Shondells, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, on and on and on—the album about which I carefully deliberated, and eventually selected, was the soundtrack to 2001. I have that album to this day, and, alas, it has all of the tell-tale signs of age, e.g., “cover wear,” “corner dings,” “seam splits, “surface markings on record,” etc. Assuming my home is never subject some catastrophic event—fire, explosion, lightning, aircraft damage—I always will own it, until the day when my heirs are left to dispose of it, an antiquated, tattered material artifact connected to some decades-old movie.

Having read the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey around age fifteen, I was compelled to find more work by its author. My high school library had a few of Clarke's books; of those I read, I remember very much liking Islands in the Sky. A juvenile novel, I remember it being about a boy living on a space station, where human problems take second place in a world in which the imaginative reach of science was boundless. Soon after, I came across a few of Clarke’s short stories in some SF anthologies that I purchased off the carousel book rack at Garvey’s Rexall Drugs store. In due time Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (Signet, 1970) was published in paperback, followed a couple of years later by the book I found even more interesting, Clarke’s The Lost Worlds of 2001 (Signet, 1972), a detailed account of the making of 2001 that had the virtue of including Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” (primary source for the film), as well as alternative script material that wasn’t used in the finished film.

I was a freshman in college, though, when I first read Childhood’s End, the novel that, for me, is the great Arthur C. Clarke novel. In the many years since I’ve become a college English teacher, I’ve taught it whenever I’ve had the opportunity to teach a course in science fiction. Childhood’s End employs the idea Clarke had first used in “The Sentinel” (and hence, subsequently, in 2001) in which humankind achieves transcendence under the tutelage of benevolent but inscrutable aliens—which in the case of Childhood’s End happen to have a strong resemblance to the Devil (vaguely reptilian, with horns and tail). I choose to think Clarke never abandoned the fundamental premise of American writer Charles Fort (1874-1932). Fort, a student of the paranormal and strange and unusual phenomena, postulated the utterly paranoid idea, “We are property,” meaning that the earth and its inhabitants are the playthings of unknown but immensely intelligent creatures from outer space. I’m not aware of any criticism that has been written about 2001: A Space Odyssey that explores the way in which it is a Fortean film. Fort’s assertion that “We are property” is the unstated premise of “The Sentinel,” as it is for 2001. As it turns out, many years later, in one of those unexpected turns of which life consists, as part of the research for the book I co-authored with Rebecca Umland, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006), I was given a copy of the screenplay adaptation of Childhood's End Abraham Polonsky wrote in the early 1970s, which Donald Cammell had hoped to direct. Although not widely known, and seldom if ever referred to in discussions of Polonsky's work after he ceased film directing, I'd love to know what Clarke thought of it.

Some years ago Peter Nicholls observed in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin’s Press, 1993), that the paradoxical legacy of Arthur C. Clarke may be that while he is associated with technological progress, he at the same time may also be

best remembered for the image of mankind being as children next to the ancient, inscrutable wisdom of alien races. There is something attractive, even moving, in what can be seen in Freudian terms as an unhappy mankind crying out for a lost father; certainly it is the closest thing SF has yet produced to an analogy for religion, and the longing for God. (230)

But a recent BBC news report published this week reported:

Sir Arthur was quoted as saying religion was “a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species,” and he left written instructions that his funeral be completely secular.

I am not at all surprised by this revelation, among the last wishes of a supremely intelligent writer of great imaginative reach, a man whose remarkable life spanned almost the entirety of the twentieth century.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Diarmid and Broccoli

Happily, Diarmid Cammell’s good friend, Carol Staswick, wrote to me last night in regard to my recent post on my memories of Diarmid, supplying me with some additional information and also correcting some information I’d included in it. I’m pleased to able to share that information here, in order to set the record straight. I am thankful Carol wrote to me. First of all, I’m happy to report that she and Diarmid did, in fact, see Donald’s film White of the Eye, some time before 2000. She remembers Diarmid’s reaction to the film being “mixed, along the lines of: it’s disturbing that Donald chose that subject, but the camera work was very artistic.”

Regarding his childhood acting career, she remembers his view toward it differently than I do. It seemed to her that he was not so dismissive of his early acting. She says he seemed proud of having been part some successful TV dramas. In addition to The Prince and the Pauper, which I’d mentioned, she mentioned a TV play by John Mortimer titled David and Broccoli (1960), which I’d forgotten about, but remember being told about. I don’t recall Diarmid specifically mentioning this TV play to me, although David Cammell had mentioned it to me, as he personally knew the barrister and dramatist John Mortimer (who died just this past January at age 85) because of his career in film production. I’d claimed that Diarmid dismissed his early acting career, saying he referred to it as an “embarrassment,” and I mentioned this because I specifically asked him about his acting career on two separate occasions. The second time I asked him about it, I clearly remember him saying to me, “Oh, it’s an embarrassment really. I don’t want to talk about it. Someday when I know you better, maybe.” My reply was simply, “Fair enough.” Actually, the only reason I knew about his career as a child actor in the first place was because David Cammell had told me all about it prior to my first introduction to Diarmid, in 1999. And even before he angrily called us demanding that his name be removed from our book (for reasons detailed in my previous post), he’d previously written me an email requesting that I remove all references to his acting career (we had been sending him document files of the chapters in draft form as email attachments). So all of these instances contributed to my perception that he was highly dismissive of that portion of his life; perhaps I am wrong in that assessment. Personally I thought it was fascinating and I wanted to know about it, not because I intended to go into it in any depth in our biography of Donald, but because I was actually interested in knowing about it. Perhaps rather than using the word “embarrassment,” I should have said that he was “ambivalent” about it, which seems to be more accurate given Carol’s recollection. And most certainly she knew him much better than I did.

As for his knowledge of Arabic, she believes I misunderstood something Diarmid said, and I believe she’s right. She says that in the 1970s, Diarmid translated from the French a book titled The Crisis of the Arab Intellectual by Abdallah Laroui, for which his knowledge of Arabic was useful. But she writes, “He never mentioned to me any professional translations from Arabic (at least I don’t recall any such mention), nor did he put any on his resume. He did say that his Arabic script was quite good.” On this latter point I’m sure she’s right: what he must have told me was that his Arabic script was very good, a remark which I mis-remembered as him saying that his Arabic was very good--a big difference. So I apologize for including incorrect information in my earlier post.

Carol appended to her email the last picture she took of Diarmid, taken just this last December, while he was preparing to barbecue salmon. I thought I would share it. He has much more gray hair than the last time I saw him a few years ago, but then again, I suppose I do, too. And of course he was ill. The picture is very much like him--his smile, that impish twinkle in his eye; but what particularly strikes me about the picture is the strong family resemblance to Donald, which I’d never noticed before as being so pronounced, but it sure is in this picture. Carol asked me to take special note of his green Tibetan wool socks and his custom-made sandals—so inimitably Diarmid! I am privileged to have known him; would that we could have patched up our disagreement before he passed away.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

His Master's Voice

Although colloquially referred to as a “Leslie”, the Leslie Rotating Speaker System is actually a sound modification (deformation) device, not a standard speaker as such, in the sense of being an amplification and reproduction mechanism, one so accurate and so realistic in its sound that the reproduction could fool one’s faithful dog. The mythic origin of the relationship between the master, the master’s voice, and the faithful dog is ancient: it can be traced back to Homer’s Odyssey, with the relationship between Odysseus and his elderly dog, Argos. If you’ll remember, Odysseus has been gone from Ithaca for twenty years, and when he finally returns, he’s disguised as a beggar. Having landed back home after such a long absence, when Odysseus eventually speaks, even after all those long years, Argos, his old, dying dog—so miserably old that the only way the beast can stay warm is lay on a composting manure pile—instantly lifts up his head in excitement, having recognized his master’s voice. The presence of his master’s voice, of course, means to the dog that his master has finally returned. Thus Nipper, the name of the dog used as a model in the painting that eventually became RCA’s logo, is really misnamed. In honor of that miserably old dog that waited twenty years just to hear--once more before he died--his master’s voice, RCA’s mascot should be re-christened Argos.

The Leslie did not originate as a speaker the purpose of which was to reproduce “his master’s voice.” Although invented in the 1940s to augment the sound of the Hammond organ, in the 1960s the Leslie--named after its inventor, Donald J. Leslie (1911-2004)--began to be put to use by rock bands in an unexpected way. Michael Jarrett writes:

The overlapping waveforms produced by the Leslie’s two speakers—not unlike the effect derived by yelling into an electric fan—generate a sonic moiré pattern (a Doppler effect): the tremulant sound associated with Hammond organs. But other instruments have also been played through Leslie cabinets....To the psychedelic mind, the Leslie and LSD were homologous; both altered everyday perception. (140)

The lead guitar part on The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was modified by a Leslie, while on “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” it was Ron Bushy’s drums. The Beatles’ vocals were modified by a Leslie on “Tomorrow Never Knows” (among others), as was Ozzy Osbourne’s on Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.”

A Few Representative Recordings Featuring the Leslie:

The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds,” Pet Sounds (1966)
The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (1966)
Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum (1967)
Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild,” Steppenwolf (1968)
The Band, “Tears of Rage,” Music from Big Pink (1968)
Iron Butterfly, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)
Black Sabbath, “Planet Caravan,” Paranoid (1970)

The Leslie was to LSD what the Moog synthesizer was to interstellar space travel. If the Leslie was light-hearted and benign, the Moog synthesizer was dark and forboding: the Leslie was incapable of creating the sinister drone of the Moog. However, both machines reveal that for sixties rock bands, sound made all the difference. According to Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, in Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (Harvard University Press, 2002), Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (filmed 1968, released 1970) “is the only movie we know of where the Moog synthesizer [a Moog Series III] itself makes a cameo appearance.” (Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise [1974] featured the synthesizer TONTO, but not its sounds. Jon Weiss actually set up a patch for Mick Jagger on the Performance set.) Pinch and Trocco write:

In a key scene . . . Turner [Mick Jagger] for a moment is the mad captain at the controls of spaceship Moog. The Moog and its sounds are the perfect prop, part of the psychedelic paraphernalia, the magical means to transmigrate a fading rock star into something else. The Moog was a machine that empowered such transformations. The synthesizer for a short while in the sixties was not just another musical instrument; it was part of the sixties apparatus for transgression, transcendence, and transformation. No wonder the sixties rock stars loved their Moogs. (305)

The synthesizer’s key place in sixties rock began in June 1967. Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause (the recording duo of Beaver & Krause) set up a booth on the Monterey fairground as part of the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 in order to promote, and perhaps even sell, the Moog synthesizer. They actually sold several. According to Pinch and Trocco, “Monterey was the place where the subculture became mainstream” (117).

A Few Representative Recordings Featuring the Moog Synthesizer:

Mort Garson and Bernie Krause, The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds (1967)
Johnny Mandel, Point Blank (1967) (Film Score Monthly, 2002)
The Doors, Strange Days (1967)
Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause, The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music (1968)
The Byrds, The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)
Walter [Wendy] Carlos, Switched-On Bach (1968)
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1971)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Monday, January 18, 1960: Shoot the Piano Player

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

Tirez sur le pianiste


1960, The Criterion Collection,
DD 1.0/16:9/Sub, 81m 15s

If information found at the Internet Movie Database is correct, then it was during the week of January 18-22, 1960 that Francois Truffaut completed the filming of his second feature film, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. Were the final scenes filmed the climactic scenes in the snow? Yet another instance of the so-called “sophomore jinx” (in which a director follows an auspicious feature debut with a flop), SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, based on David Goodis’s novel Down There (1956), was a critical and commercial failure.

In defending his use of what an interviewer referred to as “trash novels” as source material for his films, Truffaut averred that the strength of these novels and novelists (David Goodis and William Irish [Cornell Woolrich] in particular) lie in their audacity: because their works are not considered to be literature (high), but pulp (low), they are free to put “into their books anything they choose.” Truffaut went on to say: “After seeing Shoot the Piano Player and liking it, Henry Miller was asked to write an introduction for a new edition of Down There and therefore had to read the book. He then phoned me to say that he suddenly realized that whereas my film was good, the book was even better. So you see, I don’t film trash.”

Had Truffaut made his comments about filmmakers instead of “pulp” novelists, and claimed that their strength is that they put “into their films anything they choose,” he could not have offered a better description of his own, individual style of making films, his personal poetics. I strongly suspect that those who have little tolerance for Truffaut’s films dislike them for precisely this reason: they are too “quirky,” too stylistically varied, an awkward combination of comedy, tragedy, and slapstick. Hence Criterion’s lavish double-disc set of SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (released late in 2005), which includes an audio commentary by two noted film scholars, rare interview footage, vintage interview footage with the director as well as rare test footage and a 28-page booklet with an insightful essay by Kent Jones and an additional interview with Truffaut, is unlikely to win over many converts.

Truffaut’s aesthetics can be understood as a reaction to French movies that exemplified what he called the “tradition of quality” and to American movies that now might be called “politically correct” but perhaps are better characterized as “hot topical,” films on social topics that manage to generate a great deal of heat but very little light—referred to in the 1950s as “problem pictures.” Hollywood problem pictures—films that condemned racial intolerance and drug addiction, for example, or explored the social and familial reasons for juvenile delinquency, or the potential horrors of nuclear war—might best be understood as analogous to a politician who condemns child abuse. He or she is right to condemn child abuse, but no one is going to speak for it. (Occasionally an ingenious writer might re-combine these topics into novel formulations, as exemplified by a film such as The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (1959), which was about nuclear war, racial bigotry, and feminism, and resolved itself, non-violently, through, of all things, the ménage a trios.) Time has transformed these problem pictures—e.g., among many dozens, The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Man With the Golden Arm, Blackboard Jungle, and, according to Truffaut, virtually everything by Billy Wilder (with the exception of Stalag 17)—into museum pieces. Truffaut had special dislike for films such as Billy Wilder’s The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), not a problem picture as such but dull and predictable—Hollywood filmmaking at its best, that is, worst.

Unlike the topical “problem picture,” SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER is non-political in its subject matter—there’s no ostentatious display of “social consciousness.” Instead, with its innovative montage, non-diegetic digressions (Boby Lapointe’s “Framboise”), and sudden mood juxtapositions—visual jazz—SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER attempts to exploit the full possibilities of the cinema. Since it is concerned primarily with its images, not simply its issues, it has remained more fresh and viable today than those other films of the same era.

An anecdote: During the many years Becky and I devoted to writing Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (FAB Press, 2006), Donald’s younger brother (and Associate Producer of Performance) David happened to visit us. The day before he arrived, I happened to have been sorting through some old laser discs to find out if I had any titles on laser disc that had not yet been released on DVD. Serendipitously, I left propped against the downstairs bookcase the Criterion laser disc of SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER. Seeing it, David pointed to it and asked me if I liked the film. I said yes, I do. He replied: “So do I, very much. That was the film that opened up the cinema to me. It made me want to start making movies of my own.”

Slightly over a decade later, Performance (1970) had precisely the same effect on me: I’d loved movies since I was a small boy, but it was the film he co-produced years later that opened up for me the full possibilities of the cinema--as SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER had for him.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Ballad of John and Yoko's Rolls

In yesterday's blog I mentioned John Lennon's Rolls-Royce Phantom V, the car that was later repainted in psychedelic fashion (for complete information on this particular Roller, go to the following website). I also said that Lennon didn’t acquire this particular Rolls-Royce until 3 June 1965, and that it was repainted in psychedelic fashion in April 1967. I encourage readers to visit the aforementioned website to verify all of this information.

I have brought up this issue because a couple of individuals have emailed me--including a third person whom we actually interviewed as part of our research--challenging my and Rebecca's assertion in our book, Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side (2006), that the white Rolls-Royce used at the end of Performance (1970), the one in which Harry Flowers sits awaiting delivery of Chas ("Hello, Chas!"), and the Rolls in which Chas/Turner rides off in the film's final moments, was John Lennon's Phantom V. It was this same white Rolls, so we asserted, that was later used in the Apple Records promotional video, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (1969). That could not be John Lennon's Rolls-Royce used in the film, we have been informed, because it was painted in psychedelic colors. The Rolls-Royce used at the end of Performance is white. I responded to these queries by saying that we did our research, and that indeed our information is correct.

It is true that three different Rollers were used in Performance: the black one, shown in the film's opening moments; the black Rolls in the garage with a "tasty finish," on which acid is poured, destroying the paint job (actually that Rolls was coated with a clear substance that reacted to the chemicals in the liquid dumped from the jug--that wasn't real acid poured on the Rolls!); and the white Rolls-Royce belonging to John Lennon used in the last sequence.

Since the issue has come up in the past, and since there may be others who haven't written me but who also think we are incorrect, I thought I'd address it, and settle the matter once and for all. I've included below a series of frame grabs from the final moments of Performance in order to fully reveal the identity of the Rolls-Royce used in the last sequence of the film.

The first still consists of a shot taken from Chas/Turner's subjective POV approaching the white Rolls...


Chas/Turner climbs in and the Rolls pulls away, revealing the front license plate, EUC 100C. Note the antenna on the roof toward the front, over the top of the windshield:


Following the 180 degree rule (editing on the axis), there is a cut to the rear of the Rolls-Royce as it pulls away from the curb and begins down the street. Again the shot reveals the license plate, EUC 100C:


The same white Rolls used in Performance, owned by John Lennon--certainly he was wealthy enough to own more than one such luxury car--was used a few months later in the Apple Records promotional video, "The Ballad of John and Yoko." Please forgive the poor quality of the image, but here's a screen grab taken from early in the video. Note the gull-wing antenna on the roof, near the front windshield:


Here's a shot of the Rolls toward the end of the video (again I apologize for the poor quality of the image). Note the license plate, EUC 100C:


I should also add that David Cammell, the film's Associate Producer, told us that it was John Lennon's car, so I hope that all of this is proof enough that our assertion in our book about the identity of the white Rolls-Royce is correct. The equipment in Turner's "studio" was also borrowed from the Beatles' Abbey Road studio, with the exception of the Moog Series III synthesizer, which was brought over by Jon Weiss, a representative of Moog at the time.

In a subsequent blog I'll discuss what happened to the Moog synthesizer that was used in Performance.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tuesday, January 26, 1960: Alien Sex

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh...

Having turned 25 years old in January, 1960, Elvis would have turned 73 years old in January of this year. Sharing the same birthday as Elvis, January 8, David Bowie turned 61 a couple of months ago (having turned 13 years old in January, 1960). In a few more months, Mick Jagger will be 65. (Astonishingly, Bill Wyman of the Stones already celebrated his 71st birthday.) In the history of rock ‘n’ roll, eventually it may come to pass that British artists such as Jagger and Bowie will be perceived as more provocative rock stars than Elvis Presley, although Elvis in a very real sense created them, that is, made them both possible, enabling their later elaborations on the image of the (white) rock star he pioneered.

One reason for this eventuality may be that both Bowie and Jagger were willing to experiment with their masculine image much more than Elvis. Although extraordinarily erotic to a generation of young women, Elvis never tried any such experimentation--it probably never occurred to him. What this difference suggests, among other things, is that Bowie’s and Jagger’s particular allure is not Elvis’s—and never was. Critic Greil Marcus has argued that what Elvis did was to purge the Sunday morning sobriety from folk and country music and expunge the dread from the blues. In doing so, he transformed a regional music into a national music, and in doing so invented party music. Elvis popularized an amalgam of musical forms and styles into “rock ‘n’ roll,” a black American euphemism for sexual intercourse. What the Rolling Stones did to rock music (and Bowie after them) some years after Elvis made sex an integral part of rock music’s appeal, was to infuse rock with a bohemian theatricality, at first through the key figure of Brian Jones, who was the first British pop star to cultivate actively a flamboyant, androgynous image. For a time, Jones even found his female double in Anita Pallenberg. Brian Jones and the Stones thus re-introduced into rock music its erotic allure, and hence made it threatening (again).

History will recognize that the cultivated androgyny and transvestitism of 1960s rock stars such as Jagger and Bowie destabilized and subverted stable categories of the self and sexual identity, which is why as cultural practices they were perceived by some as so threatening and so subversive to genteel, bourgeois culture. (Indeed, Brian Jones seems to have had deep disdain for middle-class puritanism and sexuality morality.) By the late 1960s and early 1970s, roughly four decades ago, rock music had become synonymous with decadence. The connection was cemented when Mick Jagger appeared in Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970) as a bohemian rock star living in a ménage à trois with two women--one of whom was Anita Pallenberg. A few years later, in 1976, David Bowie appeared as a sexually ambiguous alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, in The Man Who Fell to Earth (although, as David Cammell recently told me, Peter O'Toole was first considered for the part of Newton.) The Bowie character was similar to the Michael Rennie character (Klaatu, aka “Mr. Carpenter”) in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) by virtue of his possessing advanced technology. But he was utterly unlike the Rennie character in that his alien sexuality was foregrounded; it was essential to defining his difference. (Michael Rennie is to The Day the Earth Stood Still what Elvis Presley is, now, to rock culture—a benign, handsome, paternal, Christ-like figure purged of any real sexual menace).

The performances of Mick Jagger in Performance and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth now stand as grand subversions of the wholesome but bland image of the rock star created by Elvis in his 31 feature films (1956—1969). Elvis might have sung Leiber and Stoller’s “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” to a group of girls on a dude ranch in 1965’s Tickle Me (“It’s Fun!.....It’s Girls!.....It’s Song!.....It’s Color!”) but Jagger and Bowie (and the girls) were “dirty.” By literalizing in their films what Elvis had only sung about in his, Jagger and Bowie forever transformed the image of the rock star, and in so doing transformed rock culture.

Friday, July 9, 2010

John Lennon's Other Roller

A couple of years ago I posted a blog on John Lennon’s white Rolls Royce Phantom V, the vehicle that appears at the end of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970), the one in which Harry Flowers sits awaiting delivery of Chas ("Hello, Chas!"). It was this white Rolls that was later used in the Apple Records promotional video, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (1969). It so happens that three different Rollers were used in Performance: the black one, shown in the film's opening moments; the black Rolls in the garage with a "tasty finish" on which acid is poured, destroying the paint job (actually that Rolls was coated with a clear substance that reacted to the chemicals in the liquid dumped from the jug—that wasn’t real acid poured on the Rolls!); and the white Rolls-Royce belonging to John Lennon used in the last sequence.

I'm happy to report that my post on Lennon’s white Phantom V prompted Eric Roberts of Brisbane, Australia to conduct some original research on Lennon’s second Rolls, which he kindly shared with me. I wrote him asking permission to share his findings on this blog, and he agreed. I wish to thank Eric for both the research and for allowing me to publish the information here. If anyone has additional information, especially regarding the date of John Lennon's purchase of the white Rolls Royce (EUC 100C), please write and I'll share it here. If anyone is willing share archival images of the white Rolls, please send them to me and I'll post them. Mr. Roberts' essay follows.

JOHN LENNON’S OTHER ROLLS ROYCE by Eric Roberts

Please note:
1. I think I saw (somewhere on the web) original documentation stating that FJB 111C was originally black. I may be wrong.
2. I am no expert when it comes to the subtle differences between various models of Rolls Royce cars. Is EUC 100C a Phantom V or a Silver Cloud III?

Everyone knows that, in 1967, John Lennon’s black, 1965 Phantom V, registration FJB 111C, was repainted yellow and covered in colourful gypsy-inspired designs. While it seems fairly conclusive that the original colour was black, a number of websites insist that it was white when Lennon bought the vehicle in June 1965 and that, subsequently, he decided to respray it black. Clearly, this cannot be true, since the so-called “psychedelic” Rolls Royce has a different number plate to the white Rolls that Lennon used from 1968 until he moved with Yoko to the United States. Further research is needed to verify that sometime ca. 1967-68, Lennon purchased a second Phantom V, identical to his 1965 black Rolls FJB 111C. It is important to recognize that Elvis Presley owned a 1960 Phantom V Roller, which he bought with the proceeds from his five picture deal with Warner Bros. Similarly, Lennon seems to have splurged on a Phantom V around the same time that The Beatles were contracted to make the movie Help!

In the aftermath of the critical failure of Magical Mystery Tour (1967)—in which FJB 111C makes a cameo appearance—Lennon began a new phase of his life with Yoko Ono. Lennon takes to wearing white clothes. The interiors of their new home, Tittenhurst, are predominantly white, and the exterior is (strikingly) white. White seems to take on a symbolic significance for both John and Yoko. Presumably, his psychedelic Rolls Royce was no longer an expression of who he was. It could only associate him with The Beatles in the mind of the media and the fans.

EUC 100C looks identical to FJB 111C, apart from the paint work and the wing-like radio antennae mounted on the roof. In the mid-1960s, the Phantom V was longer and heavier than the Silver Cloud III – a flying fortress, fully equipped with the latest communications technology. It was a status symbol and a mobile office within which one could feel perfectly safe. So taken was he with the new Roller that he took Yoko on an extended driving tour through Europe. Yoko is quoted as saying:
“He [John] had this beautiful white Rolls Royce and he said to me: ‘We should go round Europe in this car.’ I said Great! Let’s do that!”
Because of the matching number plates, we know that this was the same vehicle that was used in the film Performance shot in London in 1968. EUC 100C was also used in several Beatles photo shoots. Film and photographs from the late 1960s of John and Yoko contain glimpses of the white Phantom V, whereas FJB 111C would seem to have been put into semi-storage in Lennon’s garage at Tittenhurst.

THE SPECTOR CONNECTION
As the Beatles were in the final stages of disintegration as a band, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s global Peace campaign took them to Montreal and Toronto , where Lennon agreed to take part in a rock festival featuring some of his idols, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Having missed Woodstock, Lennon felt the need to honour this post-bed-in commitment, the only snag being that he had no band. By chance, he saw a young drummer playing in a London club and immediately recruited him into the newly formed Plastic Ono Band. Alan White, then 20 years old, only learned that Eric Clapton was also in the band at the airport. White went on to play on the Imagine album, recorded in Tittenhurst Manor and produced by Phil Spector. According to Alan White, at the end of the final session, Lennon was so ecstatic with Spector’s work that he gave him the white Phantom V:
“I’m giving you my white Rolls-Royce outside. That is what he said; he said, you’ve done a great job, I’m giving you my Rolls-Royce. And he gave him his white Rolls-Royce – the huge one that he used, and he gave it to him that day. He said take it, see you’ve done a good job… Amazing.”
Strangely enough, housed in Phil Spector’s garage in Los Angeles, is a white Rolls Royce that looks very like EUC 100C. (The original number plates have been changed to PHIL 500). Telegraph journalist, Mick Brown, in his book and various articles on his meeting with Spector a few months prior to Lana Clarkson’s murder, insists that Spector’s white Rolls is a Silver Cloud III, and gives its year of production as 1964 or 1965, depending on which of his articles you read. How certain is Brown that it is not a Phantom V?


To the untrained eye, a white 1965 Silver Cloud III would be very difficult to distinguish from a white 1965 Phantom V. Spector kept everything Lennon gave him—drawings, guitars, etc.—so why wouldn’t he keep Lennon’s classic Roller?

The only problem is that, in Longmont Colorado, multi-millionaire named Stephen Tebo, claims to have John Lennon’s white Rolls Royce in his private Tebo Auto Collection. In all probability, then, EUC 100C is owned either by Tebo or Spector. But which is it? How can we find out for sure and put this mystery of Lennon’s white Rolls Royce to bed?

REFERENCES:
1) Phil Spector: Nobody Would Want His Life Now
Telegraph
Mick Brown
14 Apr 2009
Our meeting was, to say the least bizarre. A 1965 Rolls Royce ferried me from my Los Angeles hotel to the Pyrenees Castle, driven by the same chauffeur who would later testify in court that he had seen Spector emerge from the mansion on the night of February 3 holding a revolver in his bloodied hand, and say, “I think I killed somebody.”
Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/phil-spector/5154302/Phil-Spector-nobody-would-want-his-life-now.html

2) Notes From the Edge #247
Mike Tiano
August 11, 2001
Mike Tiano: So, along with working with John Lennon, you also worked with Phil Spector on a lot of (the Imagine) sessions. Any memories or stories that pop into your mind?

Alan White: Just small things like John walking up to him [and] in front of me, saying [to Spector], “I’m giving you my white Rolls-Royce outside.” (laughs). That is what he said; he said, you’ve done a great job, I’m giving you my Rolls-Royce.

MT: He said that to Phil?

AW: Yeah, and he gave him his white Rolls-Royce—the huge one that he used, and he gave it to him that day. He said take it, see you’ve done a good job... amazing.
Link: http://nfte.org/interviews/AW247.html

3) Pop’s Lost Genius
Mick Brown
4 Feb 2003
A car was waiting for me downstairs, a white 1964 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, license plate ‘Phil 500’.
Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandjazzmusic/3589445/Pops-lost-genius.html

4) Tearing Down the Wall of Sound by Mick Brown (Knopf, 2007)
A car, I was informed, would be collecting me from my hotel at noon. At the appointed hour, a white 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, license plate PHIL 500, drew up outside the hotel.

5) With a Bullet
Joe Domanick
Los Angeles Magazine, April 2007
Phil Spector’s arrest came at the end of a long, traumatic night. It began when his backup chauffeur, Adriano DeSouza, drove his red Ford Crown Victoria up the castle’s steep, winding quarter-mile-long asphalt driveway and parked adjacent to the two-story, six-car garage and motor court. A Brazilian army veteran working illegally in L.A. while on a student visa, DeSouza - who was formally dressed in a chauffeur¹s uniform of black suit and tie and white dress shirt - locked his car, walked past Spector’s 1964 white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud to a shiny new black Mercedes-Benz S430. He got behind the wheel and waited until Spector stepped out of the rear door at about 7 p.m.
Link: http://www.lamag.com/article.aspx?id=14736

6) Mrs. Phil Spector’s Hot Rides
Rachelle shows 20/20 her husband's 1965 white Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.
Video - 00:21 | 07/30/2009
Link: http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=8213055












7) Yoko Caused International Incident With Belgium Strip Show
The Quietus, Ben Hewitt, September 10th, 2009
She also revealed that she had been forced to keep a low profile when she returned to Belgium with John Lennon, adding: “He [John] had this beautiful white Rolls Royce and he said to me, ‘We should go round Europe in this car.’ I said ‘Great! Let’s do that!’ So we were driving round Europe until he said: ‘Now we’re going to go to Belgium’. I said, ‘John, er, I have to tell you something!’

“And he said, ‘Oh, well, let’s just lie low.’ So we were lying down very low in the back of the car. We drove through Belgium on the floor of the car! But they didn’t stop us!”
Link: http://thequietus.com/articles/02706-news-yoko-ono-caused-international-incident-after-stripping-in-belgium

8) Tebo Auto Collection
Longmont Colorado

Jump on this unique opportunity to attend a private event featuring Stephen Tebo’s extensive collection of antique and classic motor vehicles. Mr. Tebo started his car collection in 1975 when he purchased a sleeve-valve, three-door 1925 Willys Knight for $2,500. Recent additions include a 1929 Duesenberg and a mid-1960s Shelby Mustang. Other highlights are John Lennon’s white Rolls Royce, Steve McQueen’s Indian Chief, Frank Sinatra’s Jeep, the taxi used on the Jerry Seinfeld show, a limited-production 1954 Kaiser Darrin, a room of Corvettes, a room of British cars, vintage fire trucks and much, much more. This rarely-seen private collection will go back under wraps after this event, so don't miss your chance!

Eric Roberts
Brisbane, Australia

Friday, December 19, 2008

When The Whip Comes Down

While watching Jailhouse Rock last night I realized I’d forgotten about the scene in which Elvis is flogged by order of the prison warden as a consequence of striking a guard following a food riot in the prison commissary. Presumably a conventional feature of prison dramas—in which such brutality is often inflicted upon the prisoners—so far as I know the scene in Jailhouse Rock has received scant critical commentary. The purpose of the scene is ambiguous. Why does the warden order a whipping as punishment rather than, say, solitary confinement? One might argue that the scene is “required,” as it were, because of the Hollywood production code: violent criminal behavior must be dealt with swiftly and without impunity. Impulsive, unable to control his inner rage, Elvis punches the prison guard (i.e., the Authority Figure), and so must be disciplined through violence himself. But of course the flogging isn’t merely or only disciplinary: he’s severely lacerated by the whip, as the facial reaction of his cellmate, Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), implies when he raises Elvis’s shirt in order to examine his back.

I was too young to see Jailhouse Rock in the movie theater when it was released in the fall of 1957. I do, however, vividly recall the first enactment of sadism I ever saw in the movie theater: the moment early on in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), when Lee Marvin (Liberty Valance, an outlaw) sadistically—like a man possessed—beats James Stewart (Ransom Stoddard, a lawyer) with his silver-handled whip. The crucial difference, of course, is that Liberty Valance is a sadistic villain, not a (presumably) benign prison warden as in Jailhouse Rock (the distinction being the legitimate vs. illegitimate uses of violence). Interestingly, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was released almost precisely a year to the day after Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which also featured a scene with a flogging, a scene in which Brando is lashed to a hitching post and viciously whipped by his old friend Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), who is now a Sheriff, that is, an official Authority Figure. Although One-Eyed Jacks was based on a novel by Charles Neider, its screenplay was co-written by Guy Trosper—who also wrote Jailhouse Rock.

In his definitive book on the subject, Acting in the Cinema (1988), James Naremore convincingly argues that it was Marlon Brando who brought to the cinema “a frighteningly eroticized quality to violence” (for example, in A Streetcar Named Desire), and it was Brando who in several films—On the Waterfront, One-Eyed Jacks, and The Chase—was “shown being horribly maimed or beaten by people who take pleasure in giving out punishment” (p. 230). Indeed, in both On the Waterfront and The Chase, Brando suffers especially vicious and prolonged beatings. But only in One-Eyed Jacks is he whipped, although the whip (the lash) figures prominently in the Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), in which it becomes a symbol of tyrannical authority. On the Waterfront, of course, precedes Jailhouse Rock, but in retrospect the importance of the scene in which Elvis is flogged while in the slammer cannot be underestimated: the presence of Elvis lends the whipping scene in Jailhouse Rock a degree of eroticized violence.

“Taste the whip” is a partial lyric in the Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs,” a demo for which (according to the box set Peel Slowly and See, a compilation of Lou Reed-era VU material) dates from July 1965—that is, after all of the aforementioned films save The Chase (filmed in 1965, but released in 1966). “Venus In Furs” later appeared on the first VU album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, released in March 1967, over a year before filming began on Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (filmed the late summer of 1968), which featured the brutal whipping of James Fox—a scene that was, incidentally, inspired by the scene of Dad Longworth’s whipping of Brando in One-Eyed Jacks.

I fully realize the obvious cinematic sources of inspiration (as opposed to the putative source, the more “respectable”—as in sophisticated—literary source, Sacher-Masoch’s nineteenth-century short novel Venus In Furs) for the Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs” likely were the silent 8mm and 16mm “stag” films models such as Bettie Page made in New York for exploitation filmmaker Irving Klaw in the 1950s rather than Brando movies, but the point cannot be overlooked. Klaw’s films, like the VU song, contain highly fetishized imagery of women clad in lingerie and stiletto heels enacting scenes of bondage, spanking, whipping, and domination—which is to say, the dark underbelly of modern urban life. But in terms of lyrical content, “Venus In Furs” is simply an aberrant reading of a pop song such as “Blue Velvet,” that is, a rock song with “adult” as opposed to “adolescent” content (R as opposed to G).

There are very few rock songs featuring the whip even though the whip has been associated with rock music since Jailhouse Rock in 1957. Most have followed the Velvet Underground’s lead—the whip as fetish object—as opposed to using the whip as a symbol of brutal authority (as in Neil Young’s “Southern Man”). Only those from the American South, such as The Allman Brothers Band (and Elvis), seem to understand that the whip cannot be extricated from the institution of slavery. And, of course, those from the so-called “Third World,” such as The Ethiopians.

10 Tracks Guaranteed To Whip It Up:

“Venus In Furs” – The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
“Whipping Post” – The Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
“Southern Man” – Neil Young, After the Gold Rush (1970)
“When the Whip Comes Down” – The Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)
“Whip In My Valise” – Adam and the Ants, Dirk Wears White Sox (1979; 2004)
“Whip It” – Devo, Freedom of Choice (1980)
“Let It Whip” – Dazz Band, Keep It Live (1982)
“Love Whip” – The Reverend Horton Heat, Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em (1991)
“The Whip” – The Ethiopians, Train to Skaville: Anthology 1966-1975 (2002)
“Wrong Side of the Whip” – Substitutes, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (2005)