The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1983)

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I wasn’t expecting much from this 1983 BBC TV version at all.

Firstly, because The Two Gentlemen of Verona is rarely performed; it’s ranking in the Shakespeare Premier League is right down in the bottom three (along with ‘Pericles’, and The Merry Wives of Windsor’) seen as a relegation zone candidate.

Secondly, because the ending is by all accounts an absurdly distasteful cop out.

Thirdly, because reviews of this BBC effort rate it ‘irredeemably tame’, ‘shallow’, ‘ awful’, ‘to be avoided’.

But it’s not too bad. I didn’t find it terrible. More mediocre than awful. Not a dog anyway.

It’s actually got a dog in it. That’s it’s USP: the Shakespearean play with the dog in it.

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The dog is called Crab and the joke is he’s supposed to be a crabby sour-natured cur, but is actually an endearingly sweet muffled moggie (as you can see in that pic)

I saw this Two Gents in conjunction with watching the 2014 online transmission live from the RSC. That had the fizz and energy that this anodyne Beeb lacked. (I’ll review that separately).

This was directed by Don Taylor as part of the BBC attempt to produce a definitive TV archive of all Shakespeare’s plays. By ‘definitive’ here is meant a safe treatment of, and orthodox reading of, the plays as straight to mouth texts. And that’s how this play ‘plays: fairly conventional, pretty, but pretty tame, dramatically dull.

The studio settings are theatrically staged (the whole 36 play cycle was produced on a shoestring budget) conceived as a ‘Garden of Courtly Love’ in which the various lovers could conduct their trysts.

This Romeo and Juiletish balcony scene of Proteus singing his sexy socks off up to Silvia exemplifies how sensitively, and minimally, created the production is. I couldn’t understand very clearly what was being meant, but at least it looked pretty.

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Not understanding what the hell is going on, is an occupational hazard of any  non-knowing Shakesperean numpty (like me) And I struggled to comprehend predictably, and frequently, watching this. The lines were rat a tatted like a loco motive, being rapidly recited rather than vibrantly embodied or engagingly enacted. And despite the addition of subtitled text at the bottom of the screen, it was difficult to unravel what was being said exactly, or meant especially. Far too fast. Way too static. This is just the kind of obtruse heady textual reading of the play that has put me off Shakespeare for the last 40 years.

But I suppose after a while, after about an hour, I got ground down into the grind of the rhythm of it. My ears gradually acclimatized to the tune of it. Or maybe I simply gave up trying to concentrate too hard to understand everything and let the general sense of it wash over me like lutey music.

And the music is quite pleasant, quite pleasing in a way. It sounds sweet. It feels melodious.Yes, I”l let it wash over me like a sprinkly fountain. I’ll stop trying to apply common-sense, common-place, everyday, levels of comprehension to any of this.

I said earlier that I didn’t think the words were being engagingly embodied and enacted. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t ‘acting’ going on. There was quite a bit of theatrical acting of the declamatory style going on. In particular, this clown, sorry I meant to say ‘actor’, Frank Barrie, gave Sir Eglamour some serious thespian welly.

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It was theatrical eyebrows and absurd gurns all the way with Frank. Entertaining, with possibly unintentional, but highly advertent, comic value of the farcical kind. In other words, he hammed it up like a good old old-school Old Vic luvvie pro.

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Most of the cast didn’t do much for me. I’d never heard, or seen, the 2 male leads before: Tyler Butterworth (Proteus) and John Hudson (Valentino) I suppose as Two Gentlemen is considered second-rate Shakespeare you get second division actors to fill in. Paul Daneman did good disdain as the Duke of Milan; Tony Haygarth seemed suitably paunchily cast as Launce, although his childish side-kick Speed (Nicholas Kaby) was positively irritating. The comedy was lame, the sexual innuendo limp. Probably due to commercial considerations; the intention being to give a seriously straight-laced and straightforward rendition of the play suitable for sell on to schools and colleges.

Tessa Peake-Jones as Julie gave the most affectingly moving performance.

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I sympathized with her because she suffers the most injustice, the most hurt. Proteus dumps her. And then she has to be the silent witness to all his monkeyboy machinations with the brand new love of his life (Sylvia)

Proteus is a shit. A conniving self-serving shit. He dumps Julia. He betrays his so called best friend Valentino. And then he wants to rape Sylvia. And yet Tyler Butterworth doesn’t really make Proteus seem shitty enough. He’s played too pleasingly pleasant. Not enough nasty bastard in him. Maybe that’s the problem; if you go all out to portray Proteus as the nasty shit he is, you can’t then reel him back in the final scene; if he’s gone way beyond the pale, he’s beyond sympathy, beyond forgiveness, he’s irredeemable.

The all too easy reconciliation in the final scene, where Valentino is offering his woman (Sylvia) to his mate, the mate that has just tried to rape her, is inexplicable (to our modern sensibilities) And the quick turn around and get back together of Proteus with Julia just makes you go Ugh? Eh?. Why would she have him back? Is she merely a passive dupe, a dopey doormat? This isn’t love – it’s co-dependent victim behaviour. He’s an arsehole, stop needing him, get rid. (We all want to say. I do)

Yes, the final scene brings this whole play down. And fatally ruins it. I can see why its tricky, and possibly impossible, to redeem it. The 2 Gentlemen of Verona aren’t gallant courtly lovers. They’re a pair of immature misogynists.

So there you have it. A seriously stolid production of the play. Pretty, but pallid. Something that pales in the memory as lacking energy, vibrancy, fizz, pizzazz. It’s hardly, barely, amusing.

The most memorable thing about it is the dog. Woof! Woof!

So begins my long journey through all 36 plays of Shakespeare. Many films will be from this cycle the BBC dutifully produced between 1978-1984. The quality, apparently, is variable. There’s a ‘definitive’ and distinctly stale air of stuffy orthodoxy and bland conservatism about the whole enterprise; of which this pallid production is a stultifying example. Fortunately, I’ve got other filmed versions of the plays to do some compare and contrast evaluation.  These ‘faithful’ faith-bound BBC readings or renderings, are all too predictably approaching Shakespeare as a sacrosanct holy text, to be undeviated from, and to be spoken in the reverential tones of the all too easily converted.

Dir: Don Taylor, UK

It gets a rather tepid 5/10

Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan Kolya

I watched this film a year ago and I can’t remember much about it. Other than it was good enough to watch again.

Now I’m remembering.  One of those sombre sullen Russian films, cold and grey, moodily oppressive, gloomily grim. wintered in melancholy.

Corrupt politicians, corrupt church, corrupt police, corrupt bureaucracy.

Fat mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) wants to grab hothead Kolya’s (Aleksey Serebryakov in above pic) land and property. He turns up for a confrontation one night looking like this

Leviathan Vadim Mayor

That’s no pretend sozzled. He looks genuinely blottoed.
Everybody swings back bottles of vodka like it was water. There’s so much boozy blotto going on you almost feel sick.

Leviathan vodka drinking

Every arsehole is drowning in shit. ‘Everything is everyones fault’. Everybody has got everybody ‘by the balls’.

‘There are lots of arseholes at the bottom of hills’ (funny, but there’s not a lot to be funny about in this relentlessly, mercilessly, depressing film)

Got to put the squeeze on that fat little prick Vadim, deliver him his dirt.

But something tragic is waiting at the bottom of this film, that we are hopelessly falling towards, and down into.

Here is Kolyas wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) stood out on the edge, about to be falling down, and into.

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As a State of Russia Indictment this is all so horribly convincing. This is how it is. Russia is an inebriated nasty shithole. Where you drink yourself senseless. Where as one of the weak, of which there are too many, you get no justice. Where you get fucked helplessly into hopelessness.

‘Man is the most dangerous animal’. Truth enough. We are.

Is this film going to let the loathsome mayor get away with it? I suppose he has to if we’re following the savagely indifferent dictums of the ugly life this purports to be. But could not some filmic justice, like a heart attack, be administered to the fat little prick Vadim? Please!

No it can’t (do justice), and no he won’t (go die) and yes he will (get away with it)

A devastatingly assured, accomplished, film. An immersively impressive film. But two watches is enough. Otherwise I’m going to have to go get me a big bottle of Smirnoff.

Dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia

7.5/10

Bronco Bulldog (1969)

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a five bob b/w ‘cult’ film from 1969.

posh chaps (Barney-Platts-Mills) take on delinquent ragamuffinry in the east-end of london.

a bunch of amateurs. can’t act or won’t act.
the worst acted kickins an thumpins in a film ever.

“suedeheads” in cardigans, sta-prests, doc martens, crombies, scruffy long hair.

del (Walkers) wide shovelshape mug of face, his cheeky charlie del boy walk. like harvey keitel crossed with ray parlour.

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cant afford pictures in west end. go for a burger in a coffee bar instead.

wots irene gonna do when she leaves school? “a typist or summink”.
“wot in an hoffice? aint much isit? borin””

irenes mom wants to smack her face.
dels dad wants to give him smack round the ear.

“i just wonna be wiv er wen i want” says del.
only he can’t. it’s doomed.

no place to go. nothing to do. wander around. borin.
lets get off on the bike. down to essex to stay with the uncle.

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that don’t work.
back to bronco’s.
smack a copper.
leg it.

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we know we’re acting naff. only innit for a larf.

“bladdy borin ainit?” says mate to del.

yeah.

Dir: Barney Platts-Mills, UK

6.5/10

Postcript:
Whatever happened to del & co?
Anne Gooding (Irene) is dead (“died on the dancefloor”)
Del Walker is a grandfather on the Isle of Wight.
Sam Shepherd (Bronco Bulldog) works as a market porter in Spitalfields

Rams (2015)

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Calling – or whistling – all sheep shaggers everywhere: this is the film for you.

It features 2 old Icelandic beardy bachelor brothers who seem to have done nothing much with their lifes other than like, and love, their sheep.

Theodór Júlíusson from Icelandic film Volcano is once again playing a curmudgeonly grumpy old sod.

The brothers have got farms right next to one another. But they don’t get on. Haven’t spoken to one another for 40 years. There’s serious sibling rivalry bordering on hostility  going on between this pair of shaggy beardos.

Other brother Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) is jealously miffed to have come second to his brother Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) in the Ram of the Year prize

But then disaster. Scrapie found by Gummi in Kiddis winning Ram.

All sheep in the neighbourhood will have to be destroyed.

Except that Gummi, the crafty old chappy, hides a select few in his basement.

Eventually, when the authorities find out, the brothers join forces to flee in the middle of the stormy night to the snowy mountains.

The film feels like its been moving towards the moving final denouement of them interred together inside this ice-hole all along.

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There are supposed to be ‘comedic moments’ in this film but I couldn’t find much to smile about, or even be wryly amused by.

The petty antipathy between the 2 brothers, their individual isolation and remoteness from one another, feels more bleakly tragic than eccentrically comedic.

Yet another Icelandic film where the overwhelming emphasis is on how remotely disconnected, and expertly estranged, and flawlessly alienated, Icelanders are with one another. Well, they would be; living in the lonely land of trolls and volcanos, where icy isolation knows no bounds.

Dir: Grimur Hakonarson, Iceland

6/10

The Soft Skin (1964)

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There was a big slice of autobiography in this film for Truffaut. He was splitting up from his wife at the time. But he had to disguise the ‘personal’ elements to some extent.

Pierre (Jean Desailly), is a middle-aged writer cum TV celebrity. He has the beautiful brunette wife, the doting daughter, the family home; he has money, status, purpose, prestige.

But he will throw all of this comfortable bourgeois life away. For an air hostess.

Is it a mid-life crisis? Male vanity? The play instinct? Complacency?

He balzacs air hostess Nicole (Françoise Dorleac) in a Lisbon bar till early morning. She sucks him all up, fascinated by the size of his intellect. Then he’s soft skinning with her in room 813.

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He carries his fling on with her in Paris. Arranges a dirty weekend away in Reims. She’s playing along with the role of being his sexy bit on the side; changes out of the jeans into a dress he prefers; wants stockings. ‘Women who wear leopard skin blouses like making love’ she says to him complicity. Is this her dropping him a hint she wants one?

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There’s a poignant little dance scene that illustrates the discrepancy, the incompatibility, between them: he’s the dull dad dont dance spectator to her little wiggle waggle solo.

He’s taking pics of her posing as his bit of bimbo fluff (a fatal idea as it later turns out)

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Pierre is less in love with Nicole than with an idea of Nicole he’s seeing through his hard lense.

Wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) jealously sniffs out the love rat when he gets back from his hanky panky. Then she discovers the posey pics of her Pierre with his Nicole. She tools herself up with a big gun under her mac and is speeding towards you in her little mini Pierre. Yes you. You’re going to get a shell blasted right between your high brows. And Franca will be smiling the smile of the just afterwards.

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The irony is Nicole no longer wanted him after he’d separated from his wife. A superficial lovers tiff quickly resulted in her giving him the old heave ho.

I didn’t feel any sympathy for podgy Pierre. He got what he deserved.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

7/10

Postcript: Françoise Dorleac  was an up-and-coming star in the early 60s and the older sister of Catherine Deneuve. She was killedat the age of 25  when her sports car crashed, flipped over, and burst into flames. She had been en route to Nice airport and was afraid of missing her flight. She was seen struggling to get out of the car, but was unable to open the door. Police later identified her body only from the fragment of a cheque book, a diary and her driver’s licence.

Volcano (2011)

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This is rather a sombre film. Well, ok miserable.

Bad Things Happen. Because this is Life as raw as a gutted kipper.

Bad Thing No 1: Gruff old duffer caretaker Hannes is dejected about retiring.
Bad Thing No 2: Sticks hose in the car exhaust.

But then he doesn’t go through with it. Can’t let go, give up.

So now he can get back to being his grumpy old sod of a self.

Moaning about the soup tasting weird (Bad Thing No 3)
The grandkid kicking his football (Bad Thing No 4)
The daughters junk of a jap car (Bad Thing No 5)

Bad Thing No 6: Leaky little fishing boat starts to capsize out at sea. He’s pumping the water out, but maybe it might be better to let it sink, and himself sink with it. But yet again, he hasn’t got the bottle to let go, or the will to give up.

He’s smouldering resentments underneath like a volcano about to erupt. He knows what contempt his kids have for how contemptuous he is to dear mama Anna. He’s aware of the horrible he’s horribly being (to her, to them, to himself)

But then comes this lovely moment of intimate reconciliation with wife Anna in bed

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Sucking on her nipples like he needs his mama, burying her with his beardy burly body.

He’s attempting to make amends; buys her halibut to make her favourite soup.

And then VERY Bad Thing No 7 happens to blow his grouchy grumpworld to smithereens.

The rest of the film (nearly an hour) is Hannes caring for his comatised and traumatised wife. Trying to redeem and atone for his bad tempered ways as her inconsiderate, neglectful, surly, husband.

I have to admire this films integrity. For characterising loss without gloss or sentimentality, for showing grief for the grim that it is.

Theódór Jûliusson as Hannes gives a powerful portrayal of a man trapped inside the heavy hardened cusk of himself, leaking out pathos and remorse like a weatherbeaten cranky old hopeless boat. Margrét Helga Jóhannsdóttir as his comatised wife is almost unbearable to behold.

This is the 2nd, and last, time I’ve watched this film. No need, or desire, to put myself through the wringer of its depressive woe again.

Dir: Rúnar Rúnarsson, Iceland

7/10

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

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Belmondo is fishing for a wife through the personal ads. Catherine Deneuve glides into his net, stood there holding a canary in a cage. On first seeing her, she says ‘You’re not disappointed?” Eh?! You’re Catherine Deneuve! You look, and are, and were always ever meant to be – absolutely ravishing!

This film seems to be a vehicle – a soft-top sportscar – for Deneuve and Belmondo to ride one another around the exotic sun drenched tropical island of Reunion.

An ‘adorable’ lady like Catherine Deneuve will always go to bed in full make up with her false eyelashes still stuck on.

She’s emptied his bank account and flittered off back to France. I didn’t see that coming.

He finds her working as a hostess in a nightclub. Intends to shoot her dead but can’t go through with it. They have a 2nd go at being ‘loffers’

‘I was dressing for you, to please you, so that you’d want me all the time’ she says.

‘Work, I don’t believe in it’ she says, ‘I don’t like men who work’. The Jean Paul Belmondos and Catherine Deneuves of this world should never be subjected to such a degrading activity as ‘work’. They should be sitting round like this, smoking, wining, and dining. Then back up to sun drenched hotel room to make loff on zee outside balcony.

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.‘When I look at you it hurts’ Belmondo says. So, just to make his hurt even hurtier she fills him with rat poison.

I haven’t been watching their phony palavering with any intent or interest.

Francois Truffaut made a lot of underwhelming films. Stinkers in other words. This is another one to add to the dungheap.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

3/10

Of Horses and Men (2013)

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It’s extraordinary that Iceland (population only 330,000) make feature films for general distribution at all.

But Iceland, in the last 20 years or so, has become known as a ‘cool’ place to be. It’s got Bjork and Sigur Ros It’s got the lunar landscape of volcanic rock. It’s got faeries. And it’s got it’s own peculiar breed of Icelandic funny horse.

By ‘funny’ I mean idiosyncratic. Ridden around at a comical trot, with its legs high pumping like some kind of wind up show pony from a circus.  This opening scene is drolly amusing. There’s some horsey monkey business (involving a mare being mounted by a stallion while rider is also mounted on mare, see pic above) that astonishes for sheer bare-faced and bare-bottomed audacity. And then this opening vignette is shut with a shocking Bang!

More horsey antics are to follow. Again, you wonder at how the horse with its actor on board has managed to swim in the sea to the fishing trawler. You think: does that horse really want to do that? And you think: why has this stupid man gone to all this effort for a couple of bottles of 100% vodka? It’s lethal. It’ll kill him. And, er, sure enough – it does.

The vignette with the Spaniard slitting open his horse to climb inside for warmth and protection is disturbing. Disturbed me still (a month after watching it. And I have no desire to watch it again)

The camera is constantly close up into the horses eyes. As if they know something their slightly stupid human doesn’t.  Me (Horse) = sensible. You (Human) = absurd. Horses live their normal natural life. Until vainglorious humans come along and make a mockery out of them with their meddlesome interference and malign stupidity.

A mildly diverting, slightly disconcerting film, horsing about for our (us humans who watch films) amusement.

The moral (fable) of the film seems to be: Horses are the winners, with their human counterparts a decidedly distant second.

Dir: Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland

6.5/10

From Afar (2016)

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A glowing review by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian got me to this film.

The first Venezuelan film I’ve seen. Not that Venezuela, or South America et al, is somewhere I feel particularly drawn to or have ever had much affinity with. I don’t tend to take to Spanish language films much.

This film starts with a sad middle aged maker of false teeth – Armando – cruising for young boys he can wank off to; they strip, to semi bare bottom, he whacks off, they get their wad of wodger. Then teenage Elder is whacking him – over the head, and giving the ‘faggot’ a kick somewhere private.

Armando is compelled to seek Elder out; not to enact retribution but to offer more of his fat wads of dosh.

Most of the film is being viewed from behind, or from the back of the head. Or from the side at obscure angles with shallow depth of field. There’s lots of intense looks of looking without much being said.

Elder (boy) shovels food in, swigs back his bottles of pop, with greedy ferality.

I’ve not got into this film much at all. The relationship between Armando and Elder isn’t compelling or convincing.

Bradshaw called it a ‘ brilliantly dark romance’. But I don’t see any brilliance in it or any romance. It’s opaquely estranging. I was getting increasingly irritated by it by about half way through.

I don’t do gay guy films. I don’t do gay guy films where the gays are neither gay or sufficiently credible  characters.

This was my one, and only, venture into the little known sub sub genre known as the gay dystopian Venezuelan mutist film. I don’t think it will have many followers.

Director: Lorenzo Vigas, Venuzuela

3/10

Small Change (1976)

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Truffaut having a go at a slice of small town (Thiers) French life in the hot summer of 1976.

It moseys along pleasantly enough for the first half an hour.

Toddler toppling out of top floor window and bouncing off a hedge without as much as a dent or a scratch. “Gregory go boom” he chortles. Mom has fainted.

A pair of goldfish in a bowl – which one is Plic which one Ploc? – with no filter! (goldfish care in French films of the 70s – abusive!)

There’s a dark haired bad lad Julien. And this blonde freckly good lad Patrick.

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Julien is being abused. Patrick is disabled fathers sole carer.

Julien has to go into care. Patrick gets to kiss the girl.

Small lifes’, small sufferings, small joys – small change.

Message is: children need to be loved, somewhere, by somebody, somehow. Yes, we knew that already.

The kids in this film are clunky cute, amateurishly raw. The various vignettes seem underwhelmingly random, lacking focus or compulsion.

Freckly faced Patrick just about charms Small Change out of its ho hum hum drum.

Dir: Francois Truffaut, France

6/10