Archive for the Film Category

Muscle Beach Party

Posted in Books, Film with tags , , on April 5, 2010 by richardblandford

Muscle Beach Party

Over the past year or so, the theme of what sort of books can be successfully be made into films has been touched on several times in this blog.  This begs the obvious counter-question, what sort of films can be made into books?  In order to answer this, I felt compelled to read the novelisation of the 1964 musical surfing comedy Muscle Beach Party starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, as adapted by Elsie Lee (A snip at 50p, actually worth at least £30).

Now, I don’t mind admitting I went in with low expectations.  A lighthearted romp involving sight-gags, musical numbers and characters painted with strokes so broad they may as well have used a roller do not seem like the ideal ingredients for a satisfying read.

How wrong I was.  As well as a gripping story about how a group of surfers stand up to a body-building club while a rich contessa attempts to make a gigolo out of their leader, this book has everything.

Social comment: ‘Her hand caught warmly in Frankie’s, Dee Dee wandered where he led, across the sands and away from the sounds of civilization, If you can call it that, she thought vaguely’.

The weight of history: ‘”Like maybe brains do count for more than brawn?” Dee Dee suggested.  “Like maybe that’s what our pappies were proving against Mr. Hitler?”‘

Existentialism: ‘”Honey, the beach is free,” he said with soft intensity… ‘the surf keeps rolling, rolling, with a rhythm nothing can match – and your life’s your own as long as you keep looking up and riding the curl… Isn’t that enough?”‘

Indeed, I would say that Muscle Beach Party has so much scope, so much depth of insight, it is a candidate for the elusive Great American Novel, if not the best novel of the 20th Century.

I, of course, don’t mean this.  It’s a load of old shit.  It is, however, cheerful shit that wouldn’t utterly wreck your life if you were to read it.

What’s really interesting is the fact that occasionally, Elsie Lee does a little bit more than meet her brief of turning the script into prose.  There’s some genuine characterisation slipped in here and there, with some imagination employed in working out what lies behind the actions of these cardboard characters.  You get a sense that, at least over the weekend she was working on this thing, she actually cared about them.

And it’s what happens in that space between what she had to do and what she did do that you can see, in its most basic form, art occurring.  It’s the literary equivalent of the pretty pattern on an ancient pot, or the little joke sneaked in to a railway station announcement.  It didn’t really need to be there, it seemed, on a practical level.  But someone felt compelled to put it there anyway.  It’s the same urge that ultimately leads to Les Demoiselles D’Avignon and Ulysses.  It’s the reason why something as apparently defined by it’s function as Clifton Suspension Bridge also possesses it’s own peculiar beauty.  It’s art.  It’s hidden in the cheapest, shittest, most cynical products of humankind.  It’s all around us.

(For more on the ‘Beach Party’ films, of which Muscle Beach Party is the second, see this interesting article).


The Dreamers

Posted in Books, Film with tags , , , , on January 24, 2010 by richardblandford

The Dreamers (2003) was the best film from Bernardo Bertolucci for some time. After years of making high-class tat like Stealing Beauty (a sort of prototype Mamma Mia!, only with Liv Tyler’s breasts occupying the space where Benny and Bjorn’s songs would eventually go), he finally came up with something that recaptured the genuine eroticism of Last Tango In Paris and the sense of purpose of The Last Emperor.

The Dreamers told the story of a young American staying in Paris with a pair of cinephile siblings, a brother and sister caught up in a near-incestuous relationship, and getting caught up in their private games, as the riots of May 1968 occur without their noticing. It’s a very intense, sexy film indeed. I mean, you can see everything.

The script is by film critic and novelist Gilbert Adair, who adapted his own novel, The Holy Innocents (1988). He also reworked this novel (which he was unhappy with and bravely fended off offers of film adaptations for some years) to coincide with the release of the movie. It is this reworked version, now also called The Dreamers, what I have read and done a review of here.

The basic concept is brilliant, but I have to say it shines through much more in its film incarnation. The problem is that stylistically Adair is quite a showy writer, and draws attention away from the story he’s trying to tell with needless flourishes that aren’t really that clever anyway. When you’ve got naked incestuous cinema-obsessives wandering around a Parisian apartment in your novel, you really don’t need lines like ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness as a swimming pool may be located next-door to a church.’ The film, on the other hand, is all situation, as all good films should be, and much more powerful for it.

Again, Bunuel’s claim that only bad books can be made into good films comes to mind here. Not that The Dreamers is a bad book so much, just that it doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with its being a book at all. It tries too hard to be a novel, or at least feel like one, and is all the less of a novel for it.

Indeed, it is this very awkwardness in novels those that act as source material for the best film adaptations often share. Good books can be made into good films, but they are usually good in a solid, dependable way, rather than being truly excellent. A film like A Room With A View may win Oscars, but how many people now enjoy it purely as a film? It’s a beautiful illustration of a great novel, but ultimately still an illustration.Vertigo Psycho, The Godfather and Jaws, on the other hand are, to varying degrees, based on decent but minor books, and are major, wholly filmic, achievements.

Towards the end, the novel actually gets the upper hand on the movie, as the characters descend into levels of squalor the film doesn’t show (to its detriment, I feel) before breaking out of their isolation and descending into the riots. The move to the outside is more convincing here, although ultimately I still don’t buy it. The three of them are ultimately voyeurs, their own private games the closest they can believably get to engaging with the world. They may watch the riots from the window as a spectacle, but they would never join in with them. Then they would wait for the film version, and admire the director’s technique, before going back home to the impenetrable isolation of their own company.

EDIT: I’ve done some thinking about the difference between novels and films, and have come to the conclusion that while good novels explore character by putting them in a situation, good films explore a situation via the characters within it. This is why genre fiction novels so rarely achieve absolute greatness, because they are ultimately more about situation than character, and thus don’t play to the strengths of the medium. The best films, however, often are genre pictures, for the same reason.

I can’t think of any exceptions to this, and I’m not interested in hearing any, because I like my rule and don’t want it to not be true. So if you know any, just say them to yourself quietly, so I can’t hear. Thank you.

I Ain’t Got You Babe

Posted in Art, Film on July 23, 2009 by richardblandford

Ali Dixon, an artist I know who now lives in Japan after being kicked out of the UK for being too dangerous, has done some iphone animation based on an idea I gave him.  I think it all turned out rather excellently.  See for yourself below.

Ali Dixon on Youtube and Twitter.

Cooking with Sophia

Posted in Film on June 14, 2009 by richardblandford

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These frankly odd (but wonderful) pictures of Sophia Loren in the kitchen date from 1970, and were taken by Iranian photographer Vahid Sharifian (courtesy Cakehead Loves Evil).  They appeared in her cookery book, In Cucina Con Amore.  Of course, cooking with Sophia looks great fun, but can it compare to…

cooking with Vincent?

Please Hold

Posted in Film on May 10, 2009 by richardblandford

I’m not updating this blog much at the moment, as I’m trying to get to grips with a particularly tricky section in the novel I’m writing, and there are enough distractions as it is, what with All Creatures Great and Small AND The House of Elliott being repeated on Freeview.

So in the meantime, here’s a video of John Wayne punching Baldrick into the Thames, then jumping Tower Bridge in a Ford Capri.

Who is responsible for this filth?

Posted in Film, music, TV on January 29, 2009 by richardblandford


Monty Python’s Meaning of Life – Choreography by Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.  Meanwhile, look out for Bruno in this classic Elton John vid.

Elton John – I’M Still Standing
Uploaded by val6210

Rumours that Len Goodman can be seen roller-skating in a leotard in Cliff Richard’s Wired For Sound video are unconfirmed at this time.

Odd Man Out

Posted in Books, Film on January 27, 2009 by richardblandford

Odd Man Out movie poster

Working my way through the batch of books bought in the nice secondhand shop in Bexhill-on-Sea, I started reading Odd Man Out by F. L. Green, the 1945 novel on which the classic film by Carol Reed starring James Mason about an injured IRA man on the run is based.  I got about halfway through.  Then I stopped.  It just wasn’t good enough to occupy any more of my time.  It did, however, in its very unsatisfactoriness, raise some interesting questions for me.

Firstly, why is there so much guilt attached to not finishing books?  I knew that I wasn’t enjoying it that much about a quarter of the way in.  But I pushed on for another seventy-five pages.  

It’s not the same with other media.  If you’re watching a TV programme and it’s not entertaining you, you either switch channels or just turn it off.  

I think it’s because while TV is considered to be of little value by the silly people who judge others on how they spend their leisure time, turning it off is therefore seen as a victory against its perceived life-sapping, brain-rotting stranglehold on modern existence.  

Books, on the other hand, are seen as improving.  Books are good.  If you do not finish one, it has not failed you.  You have failed it.

It was only when I had absolutely convinced myself that Odd Man Out was indeed failing me and not the other way round that I found the inner strength to give up.  

What was wrong with it?  It was overwritten, mainly, with some sentences bordering on the embarrassing (‘Nobody who observed Johnny suspected what mysterious forces were moving and cogitating in him; for only when human eyes see the body’s dead husk is its emptiness eloquent of the mysterious powers that have departed forever from it.’).  It told a fair story but cluttered it up with far two many nondescript characters who could easily have been merged into several good ones, while plot developments turned out to be dead ends (injured man is picked up by cabbie, who then puts him back exactly where he found him).  The film takes the same material and turns it into gold.  Luis Bunuel once said you should only make films from bad books, and Odd Man Out supports this.

What is more interesting than the book itself is its print history.  Since its first publication, it was reprinted fairly regularly throughout the decades until 1991 (the edition that I was reading).  Since then, it has fallen out of print.  But not only that, it appears to fallen out of people’s minds.  The book goes virtually undiscussed on the Internet (the depository of all our memories).  No one’s reviewed it on Amazon.  It is on one person’s Virtual Bookshelf, but only to highlight differences between film and book.  No one, it seems, has any love to give it.

Yet this is odd, when you think about it.  The book was pretty much in print for over 45 years.  The works of such eminent authors as Kingsley Amis or J.P. Donleavy have much spottier publication histories.  Nevertheless, Odd Man Out seems to have left no impression at all.

I have a theory about this.  I think that books have, like radioactive substances, an inevitable rate of decay, in which their ability to communicate to readers fades over time.  

Some books’ decay is very slow, so slow, in fact, that they’ll probably only stop speaking to people when humanity itself evolves into a different species that has no need for the written word, as it will communicate entirely through the medium of nipple arousal (Needless to say, it will be a binary language). 

Other books have a much faster rate, their ability to touch people already spent before someone even has a chance to read it.  In between are books that speak to people for a period, but then just eventually burn out, and the fact that they ever meant anything to anybody is forgotten.  It seems that at some point in the last fifteen years or so, that happened to Odd Man Out.  

Oh well.  Wonder if there’s anything on telly.