Adrienne Posta: The 70s ‘It’ Girl

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Rarely seen on TV now, everyone knew and loved Adrienne Posta in the 60s and 70s

As I’ve mentioned a number of times in this little blog space, Budgie starring Adam Faith, now being reshown on the wonderful Talking Pictures TV, was one of the pioneering TV series of the 70s and featured a who’s who actors of the time, as well as a few who were certainly on their way up. One face who definitely belonged in the former camp was that of Adrienne Posta. Virtually forgotten now, she was known to everyone in the 70s, maybe not by name but invariably her face was hugely familiar, and anyone from that era spotting her in re-runs from that decade would recognise her immediately. Although not quite a sex symbol, she was the sort of girl most teenage and slightly older boys would love to have gone out with or even just spent some time with. In short, she was lovely, unthreatening in a good way and seemed like great fun. She was also a fine and very versatile actress.

Her CV includes many of the great films and TV series of the 60s and 70s and she worked with many giants of the industry and it’s a CV that cries out for a bit of Genxculture analysis. Still very much with us and mostly doing lucrative voice work as well as teaching at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the legendary Ms Adrienne Posta!

Adrienne Poster, as she was at the time of her birth in Hampstead, London in 1949, was a child star and after appearing in a range of stage productions made her big screen debut at the age of 7 in No Time For Tears in 1957, a children’s hospital drama vehicle for showbiz royalty Anna Neagle, which also featured that other omnipresent child star, Richard O’Sullivan.

NO TIME FOR TEARS 1957 Anna Neagle, George Baker, Sylvia Syms UK ...

As well as appearing in loads of TV series and films she also launched a recording career releasing a string of singles with titles like Shang A Doo Lang and the, nowadays, rather dubious ‘Only Fifteen‘ (tell that to Charlie Endell) but with no chart success. It did get the child star AP onto such hip music productions as the uniquely 60s titled Gadzooks! It’s All Happening! and a spot on Juke Box Jury three times. She signed for Decca Records, also the home of The Stones, and it was at a party given for her by Stones‘ manager Andrew Loog Oldham to celebrate one of her record releases that Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were supposed to have met (according to MAF‘s autobiography, at least). Already her 60s credentials are developing nicely. AP’s relationship with music did not end here, however. In 1971 (a landmark year for her) she sang backing vocals on that quirkiest of singles Johnny Reggae by The Piglets (well, it was a Jonathon King production), although there is some dispute about which singer’s vocals are the most distinct. It certainly sounds like AP to me…

In 1974 she married lead singer of The Marbles and later Rainbow, Graham Bonnet. His career was certainly colourful. After joining the Michael Schenker Group in 1983, he lasted only one gig as he drunkenly exposed himself to the crowd at Sheffield City Polytechnic and was promptly sacked. There was a time when a heavy rock band would have approved of that sort of behaviour. Mind you, how dare he besmirch the sainted Adrienne Posta’s reputation. Beast! And talking about beasts, Posta and Bonnet reportedly owned the Dulux dog which appeared in so many paint ads at the time. Fancy that! But the marriage was sadly short lived.

Adrienne Posta was one of a breed of character actor from that period who always added a touch of class to even the most mundane of productions. I would have no hesitation in ranking her alongside greats such as Beryl Reid, Dora Bryan, Thora Hird and regular collaborator Maureen Lipman and, in the male acting camp, John Le Mesurier, Raymond Huntly, Arthur Lowe and Stanley Holloway. All actors who, although rarely stars, gave a film or TV programme a professionalism and gravitas which certain productions sometimes didn’t deserve. Without a doubt Adrienne Posta ranked alongside those legends of the industry.

And it’s this acting career that raised her to legendary status and rather than just list what she appeared in, we’re going to pick out some of the milestones and a few of the just purely interesting stages in her blockbusting 60s and 70s journey. This is not an exhaustive list but more a compilation of, what I think, are the significant works she should be remembered for.

Films

1. To Sir With Love (1967)
To Sir, with Love - Wikipedia
The themes may have been radical but the strapline was pure 60s.

Playing alongside Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier must have been a pretty exciting experience for the 18 year old Adrienne. It was here she also struck up a long standing friendship with a similarly young Lulu. So much so that AP appeared as a regular guest in 1973’s Saturday night star vehicle, It’s Lulu. The film also featured a few up and coming and established British actors including Suzy Kendall (who would team up with AP again a year later), Judy Geeson, GeoffreyCatweazleBayldon and the brilliant Patricia Routledge. Music was provided, along with Lulu, by The Mindbenders.

Although groundbreaking in its representation of race for the time, the film dodges the big questions and Monthly Film Bulletin described its ‘sententious’ script, a little harshly, as ‘.. having been written by an overzealous Sunday school teacher after a particularly exhilarating boycott of South African oranges.’

The film is also notable, not only for Lulu’s theme song, a number one hit in the US, but also for the fact Sidney Poitier accepted a $30,000 fee but also 10% of the film’s gross takings. Which turned out to be over $42,000,000 in the US alone. Nice few weeks work for Sidney, but what’s more to the point here, Adrienne Posta had well and truly arrived!

2. Up The Junction (1968)
Sixties | Maureen Lipman, Suzy Kendall and Adrienne Posta in Up ...
Maureen Lipman, Suzy Kendall and AP

Originally shown on TV as a one-off play in 1965 and directed by a young Ken Loach, the 1968 film version was more controversial. Despite the film’s main, rather patronising, premise telling the story of Polly (Suzy Kendall), a rich socialite who wanted wanted to live with ‘common people,’ it was actually, against the odds, an impressive depiction of working class life in South London. Featuring a host of 60s and 70s British acting talent, the cast included Dennis Waterman, Maureen Lipman, Susan George, Michael ‘Arthur’ Robbins, the ubiquitous Liz Fraser and an uncredited Mike Reid, as well as AP. The great HyldaOoh, she knows y’knowBaker also plays against type as a backstreet abortionist AP‘s character Rube goes to see after becoming pregnant, in a shocking and prescient scene for the times.

The New York Times review highlighted ‘strong support’ from Adrienne Posta and Maureen Lipman. These two stalwarts of the screen would meet up again on TV quite soon.

3. Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (1968)
Film review – Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968) | The Kim ...
Spot AP?

The mid to late sixties was awash with ‘sex comedies.’ Most of which were neither comedic nor sexy, but Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is worth noting, not so much for its ostensible raunchiness, it was rated as an ‘X’ after all, but for its swinging sixties vibe. Described in one advertising slogan as ‘The most ‘with it’ young cast in the most ‘with itpicture of the year.’ Well, it was half right and it certainly was, and still is, a wonderfully psychedelic ‘with it’ experience.

Starring a young Barry Evans (more on him later, I think), whose film and TV career nosedived after this psychedelic offering with Doctor in the House, the very dodgy Mind Your Language, the execrable Adventures of a Taxi Driver and a few other unmemorable skin flicks. It told the story of a young lad in Stevenage, yes Stevenage, who was desperate to lose his virginity. So far, so very formulaic but, to be fair, there was a little more to the film. Believe it or not, it was supposed to compete in the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and was even tipped for success. Sadly for the film, that year’s festival was cancelled due to the student riots in Paris in 1968 which almost brought down the French government.

Films like this one were churned out during this newly permissive period in the US, such as What’s New Pussycat, The Graduate, Candy (written by Terry Southern, see The Magic Christian below), and in the UK Dick Lester‘s The Knack..and How To Get It, Alfie and the alliterative ..em..Nine Ages of Nakedness. My researches uncovered another similarly generic title, Take Your Clothes Off, Doll, which, strangely hasn’t seen the light of day on any of the film channels as far as I’m aware. Unless, of course, you know differently….

The cast really was ‘with it’ and included Judy Geeson (whose naked scene ended up on the censor’s cutting room floor), Crossroads and Nescafe’s Diane Keen, booming- voiced Christopher Timothy as an unlikely ‘wide boy’ and sadly recently departed Nicky Henson.

HWGRTMB is a pretty decent ‘romp’, as these type of lightweight sex comedies are often described. Written by the estimable Hunter Davies, the film features many notable actresses who Evan’s character lusts after including AP who is excellent as runny-nosed Linda.

Like so many of the young adult orientated films of the time, it features a fashionable pop music soundtrack from The Spencer Davies Group and Traffic who sang the theme tune. Which all adds up to a satisfying 60s experience, not least for the participation of the wonderful AP. It’s fair to say, by this time her 60s credentials couldn’t have been more impressive.

4. Percy (1971)

Films like this one, good and bad, just rolled off the conveyor belt in the late 60s and early 70s. Not surprisingly, they look dated now but writers and directors were just beginning to realise the moral straitjacket of the 50s was being loosened, when in previous years a medieval minor unelected Royal servant, the Lord Chamberlain, decided what the British public was allowed to see and what was strictly off limits in theatres and cinemas. Percy starred Hywell Bennett as a man who received the world’s first penis transplant, hence ‘Percy’. Geddit? His quest to find out more about the dead man he inherited his new member from involved a plethora of lovely ladies (obviously) including the lovely AP.

This time the obligatory pop soundtrack was provided by the wonderful Kinks and the cast was the usual group of superb character actors which included Denholm Elliott (again), the brilliant Sheila Steafel, Britt Ekland, Julia Foster, Janet Key, ‘TV tough guy’ Callan’s (and now Emmerdale’s) Patrick Mower as well as the ever reliable AP. As usual she was at the cutting edge (maybe not the best metaphor for this particular film) of British cinema.

5. Up Pompeii (1971)
Up Pompeii! to make a comeback : News 2019 : Chortle : The UK ...
Salut-ay!

I don’t care what anyone says. I loved Up Pompeii written by that genius of innuendo, Talbot Rothwell. The theme tune, sung by Frankie Howerd himself, included the line Up Pompeii, Up Pompeii, Naughty, Naught-ay. Rhyming couplets don’t come much better than that. The lovely Adrienne played ‘Scrubba.’ Enough said.

…….It’s fair to say that AP’s film career fizzled out rather after this particular outing although she did appear in a few down-market ‘sex romps’ such as Adventures of a a Taxi Driver (again with Barry Evans on a similar downward cinematic trajectory), Adventures of a Private Eye and Percy’s Progress, a disappointing follow-up to Percy. But it was TV that really brought AP to a grateful public and her great TV years were really just beginning in 1971. She appeared in many of the memorable series from the 70s including Minder, The Gentle Touch, Boon, Dixon of Dock Green and, as detailed at length below, the brilliant Budgie with Adam Faith. Coming up are just a few of the particularly significant series AP appeared in during the 60s and 70s.

TV

1. Alexander The Greatest (’71-’72)

One of the first TV sitcoms to feature a Jewish family, Alexander The Greatest is a rarely remembered show which was about the eponymous 16 year old know-all Alexander (Gary Warren) who wanted to break free of his middle class London life and launch himself on the world. And, of course, the hilarious consequences which ensued. I don’t remember an awful lot about this series other than it starred AP, it had a great theme tune, written by that stalwart of bouncy 70s pop Barry Blue (really name Barry Green) and seemed to include Alexander’s lavish fantasies which were similar to those of Billy Liar. AP was the irritating older sister and the cast also included the great Sydney Tafler, stalwart of, seemingly, hundreds of British films as Alexander’s dad.

Gary Warren: almost as ubiquitous as AP in the early 70s!

Gary Warren was another familiar face in British cinema and TV of the 70s including The Railway Children, Catweazle and the much-missed and virtually forgotten Mickey Dunne (another series suffering from cultural vandalism as no episodes survive). Like AP some years later, he dropped off the radar after appearing as a guard in Escape From Alcatraz in 1979.

2. Don’t Ask Us We’re New Here (’69-’70)
Graeme Wood on Twitter: "TV📺25/7/69 BBC1 6.20:Horse Show 6.40:The ...
Not a bad night’s telly… and Vosene bingo!

DAUWNH is another series which will be virtually forgotten by most people of a certain age, although I do have vague memories of it. Running for two series on BBC the idea was to showcase young, up and coming comedy talent. AP was certainly talented, we already knew that, and she was hardly up and coming having first appeared on TV in 1957, but the producers may well have thought the programme needed a safe pair of hands to anchor the young members of the cast. Same could be said for Maureen Lipman who had appeared with AP in Up The Junction a couple of years previously. With the exception of Richard Stilgoe, the other cast members sank without trace after the second series ended with the exception of a certain Mike Redway. For it was he who, during the 60s, recorded over 80 albums on Woolworth’s Embassy record label, usually called something like 20 Top Hits! and depicting a pouting young girl in a bikini on the cover. Those were the albums we all bought as youngsters for 2/6 thinking they featured original recordings from the current pop charts, only to be devastated when it clearly wasn’t The Beatles, Middle of the Road or even Lieutenant Pigeon singing their own hits. That man has a lot to answer for.

Revived 45s - TOP OF THE POPS LPs
Put your 2/6 away son…

The show itself was a collection of quick-fire comedy sketches and musical numbers, none of which seemed that memorable. Although I do remember one sketch! The anchor of the show, Frankie Abbott, introduced the sketch which representied a famous film. We then cut to one of the cast dressed as a policeman speaking into his walkie-talkie. ‘They’re robbing the bank! You must get ‘ere! You must get ‘ere! You must get ‘ere!‘ Cut to Frankie Abbott, ‘The three must get ‘eres.’ You get the idea. AP was better than that.

3. Moody And Pegg (’74-’75)
TV Times coverage: Moody And Pegg (Aug 1974 - Aug 1975) by Frank ...

Occupying that 9.00pm Friday ITV (when ITV was good) slot that so many other memorable 70s series such as Budgie, Hadleigh, A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Manhunt all occupied at some point in the decade. Moody and Pegg starred Derek Waring as Roland Moody, a recently divorced womaniser and Charlotte Cornwell as Daphne Pegg, a straight-laced civil servant who had moved to London from ‘oop north to take up a new job. They find themselves living in the same house due to some estate agency shenanigans. The very clever script and the restrained nature of the drama created a classic which was very much of its time when directors and writers were exploring different types of pace and narrative. AP turned up in a few episodes as hairdresser and younger girlfriend of Roland Moody, Iris. Another excellent part in a superb series which didn’t really receive the credit it deserved at the time. I remember as a 13 year old finding the buttoned-up Daphne Pegg really quite attractive and the theme music being very memorable, not to say poignant. The ‘will they, won’t they’ element of the plot kept it interesting and I really can’t remember if they did or not. Given the tone of the series though, they probably didn’t. Which was sad.

Check out the wonderful theme tune!
4. Play of the Month: The Cherry Orchard (’71)

Just to show AP could do serious acting too, playing Doonyasha in Chekov’s classic. This was a time when the BBC (and ITV for that matter) broadcast serious plays regularly during peak viewing times, before they became engulfed in cookery programmes, lurid mini-series and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

As well as acting in many, many TV series, AP also appeared as a guest on myriad variety shows such Look! It’s Mike Yarwood, It’s Lulu and The Golden Shot. Like Judy Carne and Magpie’s Susan Stranks, she even appeared as a panelist on Juke Box Jury as a member of ‘the young generation’ (not Rolf Harris’s post-pubescent dance troupe…). And for a whole other generation she was a more than familiar face on TV and was rarely off it. But from the late 80s her appearances became rarer and really only popped up occasionally on Give Us A Clue and various other nostalgia shows. Why this was I’m not sure. Maybe she wanted to spend more time with her family and on her teaching. Most of her credits in recent years have been voice contributions to children’s series which although lucrative, deny us the pleasure of seeing her act at full tilt. These days, of course, she’d play much older characters which would be intriguing, not to say alluring.

BBC Comedy – 1970's | Archive Television Musings
AP and Mike ‘And This Is Me’ Yarwood

Her most fascinating adventure, however, took place in the early 70s when she was invited to fly to the US to join the biggest show on telly at the time, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In (See Judy Carne below). One of its biggest stars Goldie Hawn was leaving and AP was pencilled in to replace her. As we all know it didn’t happen and why this was has been obscured by the mists of time. One plausible reason was that she was about to marry singer Graham Bonnet and didn’t want to commit herself to the regular journeys back and forward to the US. I wonder how she feels about this decision now given this marriage was short-lived? I am convinced she would have been brilliant in the show and who knows where she might have ended up as a result of it? We can only speculatate but I think we’d certainly have seen more of her on telly and in films than we did in later years.

Nowadays, I’d guess few people would remember Adrienne Posta without some heavy prompting but for a significant period she was one of the faces of the 70s. As well as appearing in iconic films and groundbreaking TV series she rubbed shoulders with towering pop stars of the time and even appeared on hit records. In short, she was sexy, funny, ubiquitous, a damn good actor and as 70s as Concorde, disco, platform shoes and Findus crispy pancakes. As a 70s icon, there are few whose credentials are more impressive or more memorable.

Adrienne Posta, we salute you !

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Don’t Watch Alone: A Curiously 70s Frightfest

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It may have been manna from heaven for an 11 year horror fan but it didn’t always live up to the hype.

The UK was a ferociously moral country in the late 60s and early 70s, or so it liked to think. Sundays were particularly dreadful occasions where only certain shops opened in the morning to sell Sunday papers and rolls, pubs only opened at lunchtime and parks were no-go areas for kids. It’s become a cliche these days but the swings really were chained up. And I remember very well being chased out of the park on a number of occasions by the fascistic Park Patrol for playing football on a Sunday afternoon.

Weekday television was very much a stop-start affair with Watch With Mother and the news being on at lunchtime then the two-channel TV would close down until Jackanory at 4.45. It would close down again at about 11.30 from Sunday till Thursday. Broadcasters, maybe at the behest of Governments, put the most boring programmes they could think of right at the end of the day. In Scotland the religious Thought For The Day type programme, Late Call took lugubriousness to a new height and sent people to bed a bit sooner than they’d probably have liked to. The programmes just before this last dose of monotony weren’t much better. So, in effect, from Sunday to Thursday TV effectively shut down at 10, or 1030 if you wanted to watch News at Ten. And the festivities didn’t end there. We still had the National Anthem to look forward to! And this brought the days broadcasting, mercifully, to an end.

However, Fridays and Saturdays were deemed appropriate times for the General Public to let their hair down and, for this reason, TV (all three channels of it by this time) did not close down at 11.30 as it did Sunday to Thursday, but was extended sometimes until nearly 1.00am! Because, of course, most people didn’t have work on a Saturday and Sunday morning so it wasn’t necessary to help get them up at the weekend. Jesus, how it didn’t lead to bloody revolution on the streets I’ll never know, but decent people knew their place in those days. ‘Protestant’, ‘work’ and ‘ethic’ were very much part of life then.

With this relaxation of standards, not to mention morals, in mind, STV launched a strand of films for a Friday night around 1969 which they dubbed provocatively Don’t Watch Alone. This took the form of a horror film being broadcast beginning at about 11.00 and which was heavily hyped throughout the evening. ‘Watch if you dare, but don’t watch alone!’ Now this sounded pretty enticing to me, as it did to most of the kids in my class at school. It was the major viewing event of the week and if you got to watch it, it provided a whole week’s playground conversation, not to mention a bit of towering superiority over those with stricter parents. In fact, myself and a few other pals used to regularly have a Monster quiz about the films shown on Don’t Watch Alone and became pretty knowledgable about this particular genre. Luckily for me, as I’ve mentioned before, my parents were pretty liberal about what I watched and they were quite happy to go to bed on a Friday night and leave me to watch Don’t Watch Alone, alone!

For the ITV companies it was no-brainer. They got some extra advertising revenue, pretty decent viewing figures for that time of night (remember pubs closed their doors at a modest 10.30 then!) and the films they showed will not have cost a great deal as they were all low-budget, often ‘B’ movies and some were very old indeed. What also needs to be remembered about this moralistic time, horror films, or what was deemed ‘horror’, still attracted an ‘X’ certificate if they were shown in the cinema, and cinemas did show old and sometimes very old films as part of their weekly programme. Even ancient curiosities like the original James Whale Frankenstein from 1931 was thought by the censors (yes, they were called censors in those days) to be a threat to viewers of a more sensitive disposition. And remember this was a long time before video recording at home, so this type of offering was a real treat! Especially if you were 11 years old…

Like so many things though, the anticipation was often more enjoyable than the film itself. STV obviously ratcheted up the excitement by having a few trailers during the Friday night and they usually used the original cinema trailers for the films featured. I’m not sure what I really expected but it was usually more than what was delivered. Too regularly I wasn’t even frightened to put the lights out before I went up to my bed.

The problem was, of course, the definition of horror. For me horror was Dracula, Frankenstein (although I was never convinced by it), The Mummy and The Wolfman (more like it). But once those fairly obvious examples were shown, then what? And this is where the strand began to lose its appeal slightly. STV’s view was certainly wide and varied, but this meant I watched some very good films with excellent credentials but felt cheated because they weren’t really scary. I know this now, of course, but an 11 year old’s critical faculties are relatively limited to say the least. And I’ll also admit to not seeing all the films all the way through but being woken up by the end credits, which maybe said more about the film on offer than anything else. But after the more predictable fare, a few real oddities were aired, sometimes, I’m convinced, because the STV film buyer just looked at the title of the film and through, ‘That’ll do.’

One example of this was a film called Night Creatures. To be fair it sounds faintly horror genre-esque, and it was made by Hammer and starred the great Peter Cushing and a young Oliver Reed, but it really wasn’t and apart from a relatively creepy opening, it turned out just to be a yarn about smugglers in the 18th century. The Terror of the Tong was, as the title suggests, about the Chinese secret mafia-type organisation. The word ‘Terror’ obviously struck a chord with the scheduler but apart from a few mild torture scenes and Christopher Lee hamming it up in heavy Oriental make-up, it was a disappointment and one I did not see through till the end.

Many of the real horror films broadcast could be slow, including many false shocks and blind alleys, and many just built up to the horror money shot at the end. An abominable creature suddenly seen, a character hideously deformed or a beast manifesting itself for the first (and last) time. In the days before videos and freeze framing, it was vital these climaxes were not dwelt upon by the camera incase the viewer would spot the joins in the cheaply produced rubber mask applied to the creature. An example of this type of film was The Gorgon. It also has to be remembered that in the very early 70s no one had a colour TV and even if they did, few programmes, even films, were broadcast in colour. So a film like The Gorgon which relied on some gloriously colourful scenes lost almost all its impact through being shown in monochrome.

It may have petrified the screen with horror but that was about all it petrified. But you can see where they were coming from. It was the classic horror film that alluded to the monster and suggested the monster but until the last few minutes, didn’t show the monster. They hoped the brief glimpse, and it really was a brief glimpse, of The Gorgon at the end would satisfy the casual viewer but it was thin gruel. The Gorgon, to be fair, was a very good Hammer production, but we wanted more!

Hammer's First Female Monster: Prudence Hyman (The Gorgon, 1964 ...
Not great. Even if you were watching alone.

When a film featured certain actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, this sometimes gave the scheduler a good idea as to whether the film would be suitable for inclusion in the strand. The always excellent Vincent Price was another favourite and appeared regularly in the late Friday night slot. The Fly, long before the superb David Cronenberg version, was a typical Price vehicle which was a decent film and even the big reveal when the main character walked into the room wearing the plastic head of a fly seemed pretty impressive. Seeing it now, it just looks funny, but these were different times.

50 Years Too Late: The Fly and The Scream
Superb 50s horror

Vincent Price was a regular Don’t Watch Alone performer and his collaborations with horror directors Willam Castle and Roger Corman graced many a late Friday night. Castle was the perfect director for this late night strand. His films were flashy, employed all the techniques necessary for effective shockers and his subject matter was always on the money, certainly for a 12 year old viewer.

The Tingler, one of his collaborations with Vincent Price, was an excellent example of his art. Using a range of gimmicks to scare the 50s audience, it tells the story of a pathologist who believes there is a creature inside all of us, The Tingler, which looks like a small lobster, and emerges when we become frightened but is controlled if we scream. Again, it included the money shot of The Tingler’s reveal. But there was more to this film than just that. It was one of the first films to include a colour sequence in a predominantly black and white film, with a bath of red blood shown right in the middle of the film. Not of much use when watching it on a monochrome telly but the intention was there. And it was perfect material for a dark Friday night. Price also starred In Castle’s The House on Haunted Hill, also an effective shocker, which I can’t recall being on DWA but should have been.

The Tingler: Glasgow Film Festival 2011: Review
The Tingler: Cool or what?

Another of Castle’s productions which featured on DWA was Mr Sardonicus. Another of the films which led up to the big reveal. Mr Sardonicus spends the whole film hiding behind an, albeit quite creepy mask, and we learn that his face is too frightening to show after an unfortunate grave-robbing incident years previously. The late money shot when his mask is dramatically removed is impressive but not quite the effort of trying to stay awake for in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning. It was quite impressive though…

Mr Sardonicus (1961) [31 Days of American Horror Review] – BIG ...
The effects of cheap 60s botox.

But one film I recall very clearly and, for me, was the most effective and, at the time for a 12 year old, genuinely scary was William Castle‘s film Homicidal. An old dark house mystery involving very strange, unfamiliar characters, Castle uses a range of gimmicks to wind up the audience, including a ‘countdown’ where viewers in the cinema can leave before the heroine enters the house near the end of the film. This, of course, ratchets up the tension and viewers were not disappointed when the heroine did go back into the house. Too see the film nowadays as an adult familiar with the tropes and exhibition of a film, the conceit, or twist, would be spotted straight away, but for a 12 year old it worked a treat! One of the few nights I really didn’t want to turn the lights out! Later films such as Sleuth used a similar gimmick which really didn’t work, but, for me, Homicidal was probably the most memorable film ever shown in this Friday night slot. William Castle’s gimmickry could have been invented for young viewers like myself.

Now that’s cinema!

Although not in Homicidal, Vincent Price had appeared in other Castle vehicles as well those of Roger Corman. The Corman films were just a little too high quality for the late night film, which says more about the non-Corman films. I remember starting to watch The Masque of the Red Death and not managing much more than half an hour of it before falling asleep. Having seen it again the lush technicolour turns it in to a very different experience from that of the black and white version. However, Edgar Alan Poe is very wordy for children and, of course, nothing particularly scary happens apart from someone being burnt alive, being shot with an arrow in the throat and stabbed with a poisoned dagger. Thin gruel for a 13 year old horror fan. This was also true of The Pit and The Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher, both featured on DWA.

Masque of the Red Death | Teleport City
If only I’d seen it in bloodthirsty colour!

Another actor who turned up quite regularly in DWA presentations was Oliver Reed. He plays a werewolf in Hammer’s excellent 1961 film go Curse of the Werewolf. This was the type of horror flick we were desperate for in the Don’t Watch Alone strand. Bloodthirsty, violent, quite narratively intelligent and involving monsters, in this case werewolves of which we were familiar.

Another Ollie Reed film shown in the DWA series was Paranoiac where he played a young spoiled drunk whose supposedly dead brother turns up just as he was about to inherit the family fortune. More of a psychological thriller than a horror film but a story with a twist which not only kept you interested but featured an excellent performance by Reed. I’ve always been a fan of Ollie Reed as an actor as he always brought a certain gravitas and presence to any film he appeared in, irrespective of the quality of the production. In the excellent biography ‘What Fresh Lunacy Is This?‘ by Robert Sellers, the story is told of how a friend of Reed’s bet him that he couldn’t drink 100 pints of beer in a day. Reed not only won the bet but did a handstand in the middle of the pub just to underline the achievement. Although his behaviour rubbed many of his co-stars up the wrong way, not one of them criticised his acting ability or his reliability on set. He always turned up on time and delivered his lines perfectly.

Cinedelica: Paranoiac (1962) heads to DVD and Blu-ray

It’s fair to say STV began to struggle to find suitable films for Don’t Watch Alone after a couple of years given the wafer-thin budget available to them and many of the later films were more thriller than horror. But for a brief time in the early 70s late Friday nights was horror central. And although few films lived up to the hype it was a great introduction to a range of films which otherwise would not have been available to very young film fans.

We did dare to watch and we did watch alone. Didn’t do me any harm……

Mr. Sardonicus - Wikipedia
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The Magic Christian: The Most 60s Film Ever Made?

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Ringo Starr The Magic Christian UK poster (591196)
Fifty years on, The Magic Christian is still relevant so should it be recognised as the flawed masterpiece it really is? Yes!

The Magic Christian was released right at the end of the 60s in December 1969. It starred Peter Sellers, who had become a major Hollywood player around this time, and Ringo Starr who was still dealing with the demise of the Beatles only months previously. It hit the cinemas with hardly a fanfare and disappeared almost as quickly under a deluge of poor reviews. In August 2005 Paul Merton chose the film as part of his ‘Perfect Night In‘ for BBC 2. Previously this film had scarcely seen the light of day and it was really only then that the film could be viewed as one which not only epitomised many of the tropes and attitudes of sixties’ writers and film makers, but also brought together some of the best acting and production talent available in the UK at the time. It was also a fascinating insight into the, often unlikely, motivation of its stars and the type of country it reflected at a time of profound cultural and social change.

The film was based on a novel of the same by American writer Terry Southern whose previous films as writer included Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove and Lolita as well as Easy Rider and Barbarella. Films as sixties as they come. Ringo had appeared in his sex comedy Candy released the previous year and clearly, as probably the best actor out of all The Beatles, which is maybe not saying much, he was intent on a film career post-Beatles. Southern’s novels were very ‘counterculture’, satirical, over the top for many, but with extremely serious themes, and The Magic Christian was very much of this genre. It told the story of Guy Grand, played by Sellers, a hugely rich business tycoon who adopts down-and-out Starr seemingly on a whim and, between them, set off on a picaresque journey using Grand’s money to play elaborate hoaxes on the human race, although it’s mainly the establishment and upper class figures who suffer most, who, according to Grand, ‘all have their price.’ The film builds up to a weird climatic sequence aboard a bogus cruise liner named ‘The Magic Christian‘ where the wealthy conceited passengers are made to think the ship is sinking amongst chaos which includes escaped gorillas, a vampire, a dipsomaniac captain and supposed hijackers.

I would even argue that this was, what could have been, the fourth Beatles’ film. That, of course, was originally meant to be Up Against It with a screenplay written by Joe Orton in 1967. On the day Orton was supposed to meet director Dick Lester to discuss making the film, the film company’s chauffeur found Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwelll dead in their Islington flat. But with Ringo in the cast, music by Paul McCartney, a shot of John and Yoko lookalikes embarking on The Magic Christian and Apple producer Denis O’Dell on board, this was as close to a Beatles film as we were ever going to get. Even the anarchic unconventional narrative and arch nature of the film had a Magical Mystery Tour and Help vibe to it.

Up Against It: A Screenplay for the Beatles by Joe Orton

The soundtrack was by Paul McCartney and first Apple signing Badfinger who had three top ten hits shortly after the film’s release. Their biggest hit was the film’s opening track, the excellent McCartney penned ‘Come And Get It‘ which chimed with the film’s ‘anything for money’ theme. Other tracks were written by the band who released an album entitled ‘Music From The Magic Christian.’ In years to come two members of Badfinger, Pete Ham and Tom Evans would commit suicide due to, what they believed, was bad management which stifled their career. In 1970 Harry Nillson had a huge worldwide hit with the Badfinger song, Without You, which the band made little from, and in 1994 Mariah Carey screeched her way to success with the same song. It would be 2013 before Badfinger’s financial affairs were sorted out in court. Far too late for Ham and Evans.

Top 10 Badfinger Songs
Apple’s first signing: Badfinger

Another interesting Beatles, musical note from the film was when the duped passengers piled out of The Magic Christian with the sudden realisation they were still in London, the final crashing piano note to The Beatles’ classic ‘A Day In The Life‘ is heard.

The anti-establishment spirit and cynicism of the film made it an unlikely vehicle for Sellers who was a hot property in Hollywood and he could have pretty much chosen any project he wanted after impressing in films like Dr Strangelove, The Pink Panther and What’s New Pussycat. The Magic Christian was, therefore, a seemingly strange choice. However, this was a film Sellers desperately wanted to make and in an interview a few years later, director Joe Mcgrath revealed that this was very much Sellers’ project. ‘He found the money. He really believed in the film.’ Up to this point Sellers had given no indication that he was at all anti-establishment or countercultural. In fact, given his ‘friendship’ with Princess Margaret, who attended the premiere, and his well known love of money, it seemed the establishment was exactly what he wanted to be part of. So what motivated Sellers to make a film which purported to show the greed and immorality of the human race?

Yarn | She is lying in wait for her breakfast. ~ Monty Python's ...
The pantomime Princess Margaret

A huge clue was provided in an almost forgotten documentary of the time. During the production of the film a separate documentary was made entitled ‘Will The Real Peter Sellers Please Stand Up‘ featuring Sellers and including an often intimate commentary from Spike Milligan, who also appeared in The Magic Christian. It’s well documented that Sellers was a hugely complex and difficult character and few people really could say they knew him, with the possible exception of Milligan, whose own battles with depression are well documented. In the commentary Milligan talks about Sellers’ loneliness and the word ‘revenge‘ is used regularly. It became clear, according to Milligan, that The Magic Christian was Sellers’ revenge on all the people from the ‘establishment’ to the BBC to film producers, even to women, who all apparently ‘rejected‘ him somehow in the past. In a way, as Guy Grand, he was able to show the human race up as venal, greedy and immoral when offered enough money, similar to the way that Peter Sellers, now at the peak of his fame, was able to make and break careers himself. At one point Sellers is interviewed on the set of The Magic Christian and he admits that, ‘You can buy anyone in the film industry, even myself.’

The film is very sixties in its abandonment of a conventional linear narrative and is made up of a series of vignettes, all based around an elaborate prank or hoax engineered by Guy Grand and his recently adopted son, Youngman, played by Starr. Why Guy Grand suddenly decided to take revenge on all the people he thought ‘had their price‘ is uncertain. Did he wake up suddenly one morning and decide he’d had enough or had these hoaxes been going on for some time. And why did he adopt Ringo Starr? Narrative credibility is certainly not part of this film, which was a very sixties trope.

It’s uncertain what the budget for this film was but given the cast it attracted it must have been pretty generous. With Sellers on board funding was virtually guaranteed and by bringing in Beatle Ringo Starr this will have been the financial icing on the cake, ensuring a young hip audience for what was an extremely hip project. It’s fair to say the film didn’t need so many very well known names in very small parts. Did they really need Dickie Attenborough as the coach of the Oxford boat crew to deliver a couple of lines? Or an uncredited Yul Brynner as a drag artist singing Noel Coward’s camp classic ‘Mad About The Boy, to a silent Roman Polanski? Probably not, but it all added to the sixties mayhem. Other big, and probably expensive, names included Raquel Welch, Laurence Harvey, Christopher Lee and Wilfred Hyde-White. Given it was Sellers pet project it seemed very much a case of him calling in some favours from his Hollywood pals.

The Magic Christian (1969) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
The not unattractive drag artist Yul Brynner

Ringo Starr‘s role in the film is an odd one. His presence will certainly have appealed to the money men bankrolling the film. As probably the best actor out of the four Beatles, he had a bit of an acting track record having appeared in Terry Southern’s Candy and been the lead Beatle in Magical Mystery Tour, Help and A Hard Day’s Night. Despite this, the part of Youngman Grand was actually written with John Lennon in mind. Although Starr and Sellers apparently got on well during the filming, Sellers is reported to have been determined that Ringo stole none of his thunder in the film and a number of Ringo’s funnier lines were appropriated by Sellers, leaving Ringo with relatively little to do or say. In fact, Starr’s role is really just as a stooge to listen to Sellers’/ Grand’s philosophising. At this point in Sellers’ career, this was a fairly common occurrence in films he was starring in. Sellers’ meddling even extended to a strange incident involving John Cleese.

A pre-Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman had already written a treatment of the book for screen but on reading it, Seller’s threw out most of it. The only parts of their version that survived in the film were the the Sotheby’s scene where Guy Grand pays a huge amount of a Rembrandt and proceeds to cut out the artist’s nose from the picture in front of an aghast director played by Cleese. The other part of the film that survived was the sequence where Guy Grand bribes the Oxford team competing in that most English of traditions of ‘fair play’, the university boat race. Seller’s reportedly tried to have Cleese fired from the film and put pressure on director Joe McGrath to remove him. Why he attempted this is uncertain. Some say it was because Cleese was upstaging Sellers in the scene, something Sellers at this time could not countenance, others claim it was because Sellers felt Cleese was no good in the scene. In his definitive study of Sellers ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers‘, Roger Lewis quotes Sellers as shouting at Cleese ‘Jesus Christ, what are you doing?’ in front of the whole crew. Cleese has talked a number of times about how nervous he got before performing and maybe his nervousness having to perform next to a legend like Sellers took its toll. Either way, the incident was an interesting example of just how difficult Sellers was to work with and Cleese wasn’t fired but it was a scene Sellers was never happy with.

Cult Movie: The Magic Christian is silly and indulgent yet oddly ...
Could we have this man fired, please Joe? He’s upstaging me…

A couple of other interesting Python references to this film. Firstly, Cleese and Chapman wrote the famous and very funny ‘Mouse Problem‘ sketch, later used in the first series of Monty Python, which was rejected by Sellers. It’s also possible that a wonderfully sixties strange cartoon sequence near the beginning of the film may have been the first public, though uncredited, example of Terry Gilliam animation.

The film’s late 60s/ early 70s vibe is bolstered also by the use of a few very well known British TV faces such as boxing commentator Harry Carpenter, radio announcer and boat race commentator John Snagge, reporter Alan Whicker and news anchors Michael Aspel and Michael Barrett. With a few very entrenched establishment figures in that line-up, one wonders what they thought they were getting themselves into. Were they given a script to read beforehand and if so did they read it? Was it explained to them what the film was actually about and if so, did it bother them? As Guy Grand regularly explained in the film, ‘Everyone has his price.’ Carpenter’s sequence is especially funny where he is commentating on a boxing match when the protagonists suddenly stop and begin to make love to each other, disgusting the macho viewing audience, baying for blood. I remember during the 70s Carpenter interviewing a very bling Elton John on Sportsnight after his team, Watford, had just beaten the mighty Manchester United. After a smiling Elton had departed Carpenter grinned into the camera and giggled, ‘That result really made his earrings sparkle.’ Harry wasn’t going to let that sort of unmacho display go unchecked! So it’s my firm belief that Harry had no idea what he was really commentating on. Or maybe he did, as Guy maintains everyone has their price

The film is also populated by well-known British and American acting faces. A few of Sellers’ friends were dragged in (and he didn’t have too many real friends) such as Graham Stark, David Lodge and Spike Milligan. The scene with Spike Milligan as an officious traffic warden is particularly funny. Milligan has just given Guy Grand a parking ticket, not something that would bother the hugely wealthy Grand but he sees a chance to subvert British authority by paying Milligan a ridiculous amount of money to eat the parking ticket, which he, of course, does. As Grand is driving away Milligan shouts ‘And let that be a lesson to you!’ The scene has an improvised feel to it and it’s almost like it’s been crowbarred into the film, which it maybe has. There are a number of scenes which seem improvised and these are often the funniest and most interesting.

Scalarama screening of The Magic Christian (1969) – SORRY EVENT ...

Other British acting stalwarts like Hattie Jacques, who plays a horrendous upper class snob called Ginger who talks about enjoying a book on Nazi atrocities. And, her then husband, the excellent John Le Mesurier as an umpire at the boat race. Clive Dunn, Patrick Cargill (one of the stars of ‘Help‘), Dennis Price and Frank Thornton all turn up at various points amongst many other British acting faces. Even Christopher Lee is happy to put in a turn as his most famous character Count Dracula who turns up on the bogus cruiser The Magic Christian to add to the mayhem. I do wonder if any actors turned down a role as they didn’t like the film’s themes? Unlikely, if Guy Grand’s philosophy holds any water. And it would be nice to think that some may even have approved of it.

The Magic Christian (1969) Christopher Lee as The Ship's Vampire ...

One of the first sequences featured actor Laurence Harvey as Hamlet. Whether this was mant as a bit of a send-up is unknown as Harvey was never considered an actor with a particularly great range. Guy Grand‘s joke here was that Harvey (and he is referred to in the scene as Laurence Harvey) suddenly begins to perform a strip routine during Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. There are a few gasps from the audience, but, true to good old British convention, no one protests, gets up and leaves or causes a fuss at all. Some elderly gentlemen even appear to enjoy it. And this, I believe, is at the bottom of all Guy’s pranks, the fact that people, particularly the upper classes, will huff, puff and often disapprove but no one will do a blind thing about it.

Act Naturally - Ringo's acting career

As a post script to this sequence, what for me, was quite a cruel joke seemed to be played out during the credit roll. It was fairly well known in the film business that Harvey was gay but that his public image portrayed him as wildly heterosexual. The credits list him as playing Hamlet right under another film character who was listed as Laurence Faggot. Was this a rather nasty joke played on Harvey by Sellers, who was certainly capable of such cruelty, or maybe by Terry Southern who may not have approved of Harvey remaining steadfastly in the closet? It’s quite possible Harvey was in on it, but, either way, it seems something of a coincidence that the other character was not only named ‘Laurence‘ but was also spelled in the same way to Harvey.

Homosexuality is just one of the, for the time, taboo themes explored by the film. During the fateful voyage of The Magic Christian, camp, virtually naked, male dancers provide the floor show. As they thrust their crotches towards a bigoted military type in the audience, once again, no one walks out or even complains. They just look embarrassed and pretend it isn’t happening. The same theme, as mentioned, was explored in the boxing sequence, although the more macho crowd booed its disapproval. But, still, no one tried to stop it…

The final scene of bowler-hatted City types diving into the vat of effluent to rescue wads of money Guy Grand had dropped into it was originally supposed to be filmed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Bizarrely, the production had been given approval by the New York authorities for this to take place. Clearly they hadn’t read the script (or been given one!) and Sellers, Starr, Joe McGrath et al all sailed to the US on the QE2 to film this scene. When the company financing the film got wind of this (so to speak) they withdrew support and Sellers had to use his not inconsiderable influence to find the money to finish the film. This last scene was eventually shot on the banks of the Thames behind The National Theatre.

LIST CANDIDATE: THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN (1969) | 366 Weird Movies
You don’t get much more establishment than this!

A few American stars were prepared to turn up just for a cameo such as Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner and, oddly, Roman Polanski (only a few months before the Manson murders) to no particular narrative point, but they clearly were happy to do Sellers a favour. And one of the weirder appearances included 50s comedy icon Jimmy Clitheroe who turned up during the chaos of the The Magic Christian apparently sinking.

In an odd way the wrangling and the problems that beset The Magic Christian are all part of a wider 60s laissez-faire approach to film making by some artists. Although completely different to what Sellers was used to with Kubrick, it allowed him to influence the film totally to achieve the points he wanted to make. The range of, what Cleese referred to as ‘celebrity walk-ons’, also contributed greatly to the sixties vibe, although, admittedly, only possible in retrospect, and the various contributions of The Beatles cannot be underrated. The left-field sensibility of the text with its images of Che Guevara, Mao Tse Tung and counterculture sloganising root it firmly in the late 60s, only a year after the student protests of 1968 which almost brought down the French government. And ultimately with the confluence of Sellers, Southern, The Beatles, Monty Python and a who’s who of British acting talent, The Magic Christian plants a flag firmly which states ‘This is, and was, the sixties!’

Sadly, films were never quite the same again.

See what they did there….?
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Magical Mystery Tour: What A Long Strange Trip It Was

One of the longest, strangest, most groundbreaking trips of the 60s

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It may have scandalised the Great British Viewing Public but Magical Mystery Tour was one of the longest, strangest, most groundbreaking trips of the 60s

All light entertainment is only one step away from surrealism.

Antony Wall: Editor of Arena

Anyone who didn’t live through the sixties will not know just what a big deal The Beatles were. They dominated every aspect of culture, and not just popular culture. They were mentioned in every TV show and sitcom, every news magazine programme, loads of documentaries were made analysing their effect on society, you could buy Beatles-related tat in every shop, they even turned up in Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book in the four vultures (Disney wanted The Beatles to voice these characters but some reports claim they were unavailable and some claim Lennon was dead against it as it trivialised their music).

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The UK of the 60s was a very conservative country in its attitudes, beliefs and morals. Up until 1966 many people were prepared to accept The Beatles, as their music was amazing and appealed to a wide range of the general public, not just kids. But the UK was not ready to embrace psychedelia, surrealism or experimentation. Britain was a meat and two veg nation and you could keep your fancy French Nouvelle Vague and Italian Post Neo-realism, thank you. Films such as Antonioni’s Blow Up had just been released, Spike Milligan had been making bizarre and hilarious comedy for years and ground-breaking music had been created by The Beatles themselves on Sergeant Pepper. As Thunderclap Newman so rightly observed only a couple of short years later, there was definitely something in the air.

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The most brilliant 60s film of all…

And something had also been happening in the British film industry and much of it revolved around Dick Lester who directed The Beatles‘ first two films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Lester eschewed conventional narrative and loved to inject his films and TV productions with an anarchic humour and surreal look. His previous productions included the unconventional A Show Called Fred with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers and The Running, Jumping Standing Still Film, a goon-like short comedy film also with Milligan and Sellers. As fans of off-beat comedy it’s easy to see why The Beatles saw Lester as a good fit for their first cinematic adventures. For Help! Lester brought in writer Charles Wood, who had co-written that most 60s of films The Knack…And How To Get It‘ in 1965 before going on to write the screenplay for Milligan and John Antrobus’s anti war surreal classic The Bed-Sitting Room. The Running, Jumping, Standing Still film, which was a favourite of Lennon’s and he brought in Dick Lester on the strength of this. One wonders if the band had brought in Lester to co-direct there might have been more of a structure or even editorial rigour to MMT, but, then again, it would not have been The Beatles‘ unadulterated vision. In fact, Dick Lester had advised The Beatles to write, direct and produce their next film after Help! themselves.

I remember vividly going with my mum and younger brother to see Help! when it was released in 1965 at the Astoria picture house in Corstorphine, Edinburgh. My mum would have been in her late 20s at the time and I know she quite liked The Beatles music, we even had a couple of Beatles LPs sitting on the radiogram at home. But we left the pictures with her thinking it was a lot of rubbish. The Beatles had started to leave many of her age group behind. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They were beginning to move from pop to experimental and psychedelic rock, a move they would complete with the release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. And it was at this point in their career that things were changing profoundly in all sorts of ways. They were becoming the adult-orientated Beatles rather than the unthreatening cuddly mop tops so beloved by teenagers and many adults.

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They were at the peak of their creative and financial powers. They could do what the hell they wanted, when they wanted to do it, who they wanted to do it with. In short, they were invincible. And then Magical Mystery Tour began to hatch out in Paul’s mind. When Brian Epstein died just before MMT they no longer had this sounding board, an arbiter of what might be successful and what might not. Rumours abounded that the relationship between the Fab Four and Epstein weren’t great but one wonders if MMT would have got off the ground with Epstein on board or, if it had, it may have looked quite different. We will, of course, never know.

It’s generally accepted that it was McCartney’s brainchild and, mostly unknown to the general public, cracks had begun to appear in the band’s relationships. John was beginning to resent Paul trying to take over the direction of the band, Paul was unhappy that the other members were becoming so obsessed with the Maharishi, George was becoming very frustrated at the few songs of his that were being included on their albums and Ringo was starting to feel sidelined as he had not contributed much to the various projects over the past few years. Paul, therefore, thought that MMT, the music but particularly the film, would keep the other Beatles away from India and help them focus on a new creative venture, unfettered by producers, directors or managers, now that Epstein was gone.

The idea was influenced by a number of things. Paul had heard of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters while in San Francisco, a group of hippies who drove around the US in a psychedelic bus promoting the wonders of LSD. He also had fond memories of mystery bus tours from Liverpool during his childhood, as did all the Beatles. The idea of a mystery tour really appealed to him particularly as it could incorporate the changing social drug scene and the fact their experimentation with LSD was at its peak. The metaphor of a ‘magical mystery tour’, driving around the English countryside with a busload of strange and not so strange people, waiting for something to happen, improvising dialogue, making it up on the hoof and filming it all just sounded incredibly exciting. A druggy, psychedelic journey into the unknown with the filming rule book being thrown out of the bus window was what ensued. And what a long, strange trip it became.

Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

The band had already laid down some tracks which the film was built very loosely around, and some of those tracks were crowbarred into the narrative. The title track was a Beatles classic, one of the Beatles’ best in my book, which was packed with witty drug references that only those ‘in the know‘ would get. It begins with John Lennon referencing the fairground barkers of Victorian times entreating the public to ‘Roll up, roll up!’, but what exactly was he suggesting we roll up? In the 60s many will have known exactly what he was talking about. ‘The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away…‘ and he wasn’t wrong. As well as using sound footage from The Third Programme’s production of King Lear, The Mike Sammes Singers were also chucked in to provide laughter and exaggerated singing as well as a shit-kicking brass section. And don’t underestimate Ringo’s superb drumming! Other Beatles classics such as The Fool On The Hill, I Am The Walrus, Blue Jay Way and Your Mother Should Know pepper the film and appear in various often unannounced ways.

Paul McCartney was quoted as saying, ‘Magical Mystery Tour ‘.. was the equivalent of a drug trip and we made the film based on that‘. But it didn’t take a genius to work all that out and maybe this was one of the problems. Most ordinary people having no experience of LSD or drug culture, would just have seen it as a mess, and that wasn’t far from the truth, but, for me, it was no less enjoyable for being a mess.

The film was also packed with Beatles’ music old as well as new. At one point a fairground organ plays She Loves You, an orchestral version of All My Loving is heard and Hello Goodbye is played over the credits. Sixties band Traffic were commissioned to perform their psychedelic classic Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, also the theme to a 60s film of the same name, but the footage was never used.

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The programme was originally offered to the BBC who couldn’t believe their luck and agreed immediately. Some reports claim other TV companies turned it down and Paul Fox, the Controller of BBC 1, says he made all the running to have the film broadcast. Here was something that could be put out at Christmas that would knock ITV out of the ballpark. They paid £10,000 for it and today that would be about £153,000. Not exactly a King’s Ransom and certainly not a lot to The Beatles who definitely wanted the film out there.

It was scheduled to be broadcast at 8.35pm on Boxing Day 1967, sandwiched between This Is Petula Clark (with a script written by Graham Chapman of all people) and Norman Wisdom film The Square Peg. On BBC2 more refined viewers could have watched a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Titipu starring the legendary Harry Worth, Hattie Jacques and, in a small part, a young John Inman and on ITV The Benny Hill Show followed by the film ‘Waltz of the Toreadors‘, a vehicle for Peter Sellers. In short, The Beatles were up against the TV establishment, so did they ever have a chance? Up against that it was always going to be better to fail with a bang than a whimper.

If that’s not classic sixties, I don’t know what is!

Despite Paul Fox claiming he didn’t see the film before it was broadcast, McCartney told of how the BBC cut the scene where Buster Bloodvessel romances Ringo’s Aunt Jessie on the beach. Why this was done was never properly explained says McCartney, other than it was ‘too weird‘.

Even that week’s Radio Times‘ write up about MMT is oddly vague, suggesting few people at the BBC had actually seen it.

Yes this is it. Probably the most talked about TV film of the year. It is by The Beatles and about The Beatles. The story? A coach trip round the West country reflecting The Beatles’ moods and launching a handful of new songs.

Radio Times December 1967

The quirky cast assembled for the film was certainly diverse and definitely interesting, reflecting the band’s offbeat sense of humour and nostalgic feelings.

First up, Victor Spinetti had become a Beatles mainstay having appeared in both A Hard Day’s Night and Help! as well as co-authoring the stage version of Lennon’s book ‘In His Own Write.’ The only actor to appear in all three Beatles films, he had supposedly been offered the part in A Hard Day’s Night because George’s mum really liked him. Spinetti appeared in many comedy programmes, most significantly in 1968-69’s It’s Marty with the great Marty Feldman. In the 70s he was also The Mad Jaffa Cake Eater in the TV ads. There’s Orangey!

Cult poet and performer on the harmonium Ivor Cutler had come to The band’s attention after being spotted on BBC 2’s Late Night Line-Up. He had been discovered in 1960 by Ned Sherrin and appeared in some unlikely variety vehicles such as The Acker Bilk Show. He was championed by John Peel who brought him to the attention of a younger listening public and his hang-dog demeanour and eccentric manner was exactly what MMT needed. Billed as Buster Bloodvessel, the name was eventually adopted by portly lead singer of Bad Manners, and to this day he is still Buster Bloodvessel. A MMT reference that still exists over 50 years later. Cutler is particularly good in his MMT scenes.

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Not Ivor Cutler

Nat Jackley grew up in the music halls and was an established comedy performer. According to Wikipedia ‘..his trademark rubber-neck dance, skeletal frame and peculiar speech impediment made him a formidable and funny comedian.‘ Sadly for Nat his featured performance sketch, Nat’s Dream, was cut from the final film but he appears in many crowd and interior bus shots. Out of all the characters and actors in this film I find him the most intriguing. The most experienced and traditional performer in the whole cast I would love to know what he thought about the whole experience. All I’ve ever read about him was that he found the unscripted nature of the whole project difficult. For someone with his background it must have been like performing on another planet.

The magnificent Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band (more on them later) was recommended by Paul’s brother Mike McGear (as he was known at the time). As a member of The Scaffold, who had had pop success in the late 60s and early 70s, McGear had worked regularly with The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band many times. He knew they were the kind of musicians The Beatles would appreciate and such was the case. The Beatles became such fans that McCartney would eventually produce their huge No.1 hit ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman‘ as Apollo C. Vermouth.

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The magnificent Bonzos

Another interesting performer whose best bits ended up on the cutting room floor was accordionist Shirley Evans. Although hailing from Birkinhead it’s difficult to know why The Beatles decided to include a female accordionist in their psychedelic film. My feeling is it’s just because there was something about it that’s quite funny. Many of us grew up with a family member who played the accordion and many singalongs, particularly at New Year, were had. It’s an instrument that, even in the late 60s, had become very unfashionable, if it ever was fashionable, and it was probably the nostalgic quality of the instrument that appealed. And there’s something intriguing about an attractive girl playing it. John Lennon even wrote an instrumental track for her, Shirley’s Wild Accordion that, sadly, was never used in the film. The track was allegedly pressed but never released and is still much sought after by Beatles record afficionados.

Who could forget Shirley and her accordion?

Finally the photographer was played by restricted height actor George Claydon. In one scene he is under the camera blanket as he takes a picture of some of the trippers. He emerges from under the blanket with the head of 1966 World Cup mascot World Cup Willie. And it turns out he actually played this character during the ’66 World Cup. A lovely 1967 cultural reference and an excellent bit of trivia, I think!

World Cup Willie: The story of the 1966 mascot | FourFourTwo
Why was Willie wearing the Union Jack when he was England’s mascot?

A number of scenes filmed at the time did not make the cut after editing. One of them featured Music Hall favourite Nat Jackley in a sequence titled ‘Nat’s Dream‘ where we see him walking around Newquay and bumping into a bevy of bikinied beauties. It all takes place to an accompaniment from Shirley Evans on accordion playing the Lennon written ‘Shirley’s Wild Accordion.’ The scene, I think, is funny, old fashioned and wonderfully quirky culminating weirdly (how else?) in The Atlantic Hotel outdoor swimming pool. The other deleted scene featured Ivor Cutler on harmonium singing ‘I’m Going In A Field.’ For me, both scenes deserved to remain in the completed film and no explanation, to my knowledge has been given as to why they didn’t make the cut. At a neither short nor long running time of 52 minutes both scenes would have taken the film up to a more conventional 60 minute mark which would not have been a problem showing on TV or in the cinema. Can’t help but think they missed a trick there.

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A still from the deleted Lennon-directed episode, Nat’s Dream

My own memory of the film on that Boxing Night of 1967 is clear but short. There had been huge anticipation for the film and I remember being quite excited about it. Within a few minutes it became obvious this was not going to be another A Hard Day’s Night or even the more enigmatic Help! My clearest memory was of Ringo yelling at his Auntie on the bus and then it cutting to the scene in the restaurant with her, Buster Bloodvessel with John, who had had a dream about this scenario, as Pirandello the waiter, shovelling spaghetti onto their table and her giggling uncontrollably. Until I saw the film again many years later I was convinced it was crisps that were being shovelled on. But, back then I watched it on a small grainy-pictured black and white telly, as the vast majority of viewers did, and I’d never come across spaghetti that wasn’t out of a tin, so it was an easy mistake to make. It was at this point, however, my mum had had enough and switched channels, I have a feeling to the G and S Harry Worth operetta. I was quite disappointed as I had been loving the anarchy of MMT, and even at that young age, I appreciated seeing something that was just different from the usual formulaic tosh.

It’s not difficult to work out why the film was a complete flop in the eyes of the Boxing Day audience. The obvious reason was its unstructured, scattergun approach to narrative and much of its self-indulgence. Although not a problem for me, the great British Viewing Public were not ready for that, and probably still aren’t. To be fair, in those days ITV broadcast Harold Pinter plays at peak viewing times, but they weren’t that popular. Ken Loach had released Cathy Come Home the year before which had employed a naturalistic approach to narrative and even used non-professional actors and although completely different in tone, MMT had used similar techniques. Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ Press Officer at the time, had said that the film was made to be viewed in colour and BBC 1 did not broadcast in colour at that time. Only BBC 2 broadcast colour programmes but precious few people had colour receivers anyway. And he had a point. A deliberately psychedelic experience must be viewed in colour, that’s what psychedelia is all about. So viewers missed out on a huge, vivid, sensory element of the film. Whether that would have saved it from the savaging it received though, is unlikely. But had it been originally released in cinemas, this might have made a difference. It would have been predominantly younger people and Beatles’ fans who would have gone to see it and fewer older, more conservative viewers would have and maybe the criticism might not have been quite so brutal. In the early sixties one theatre critic described Harold Pinter as throwing a Molotov cocktail into the sherry party that was British theatre. I would argue that this is what The Beatles did to British television, only it was a huge spliff they threw in and most viewers didn’t know what to do with it.

It’s starting to happen…..

I believe that The Beatles had, inadvertantly, invented a new genre of film. A type of film where the narrative is fluid, where characters that seem to have little in common are allowed to shine, where nostalgia meets surrealism in the most striking of ways, where the comedy of juxtaposition is allowed to happen naturally, and where narrative sense isn’t the absolute aim of the artistic endeavour, all performed in an explosion of colour and unfettered joy. What we were watching was not unlike a British Fellini film. With some bizarre, offbeat and psychedelic but visually stunning Beatles-at-their-best musical interludes thrown in and we have an artefact that people had not seen before but would become commonplace in years to come.

I’m fully aware that I’m discussing this film over 50 years after its release and, of course, attitudes and approaches to film-making and viewing have changed massively. There’s also a chunky layer of nostalgia propping it up for people like myself. But this was how The Beatles wanted to be seen, wanted to be judged and share their weird vision with us. It subsequently influenced many future writers and film-makers. And it should be remembered that new genres are not defined in one moment but MMT certainly lit the blue touch paper for many of the looser narrative, more abstract films that followed.

There was a refined taste that existed within our society for the unusual, the strange, the drug-influenced fantasy. Not long after MMT, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was launched on an unsuspecting audience and, after a quiet opening period, exploded into our consciousness. Comedy would, thankfully, never be the same. And it’s no coincidence George Harrison was a huge fan of Python and Ringo even made an appearance in Monty Python, with Lulu of all people, in Series 3, Episode 2 on October 26 1972. In 1975 the Python team looked into the possibility of the almost forgotten MMT being the support film to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Although the two parties met on a few occasions and both were quite keen for it to happen, the idea fizzled out, which was a shame as the two films would have complimented each other beautifully.

And there’s another aspect to it that I don’t feel has ever been really developed. The British public thought they knew The Beatles personally, such was the Beatles stranglehold on popular culture, they also thought they owned The Beatles. The band were so ubiquitous that if they stepped out of line they were defying you. And such was the case with MMT. The public felt The Beatles were putting two fingers up at them, we’re The Beatles and we can do what we want and there’s nothing you can do about it! ‘Well, we’ll see‘ replied the Great British Public. The same happened when John went off with Yoko. The public hated that. Not only was she Japanese, but she was ugly and weird and we don’t want her in our family. Yoko was the most horrendously reviled and ridiculed person on British TV during the late 60s as she was not deemed good enough or beautiful enough or ‘normal’ enough for one of ‘our’ Beatles and she was, of course, blamed for splitting the band up. No wonder John decided to go and live in America. The same happened with McCartney. Linda was also thought to be below what he was capable of. Why couldn’t he have married that lovely British Jane Asher? And MMT was really the beginning of the backlash. The public didn’t want to see The Beatles change or progress, they just wanted their cuddly mop-tops. Maybe MMT was their way of saying ‘Fuck You.’ And who could have blamed them? This is why MMT is so essential and so brilliant. It was The Beatles from start to finish with no interference and it was where the more switched on, more sophisticated music fan was at the time in the UK and that’s why I love it.

The former NME writer Charles Shaar Murray summed it up for me. ‘Magical Mystery Tour evokes an era when society still seemed to be opening up rather than closing down‘, but, unfortunately for The Beatles, much of society was a long way from opening up, and in many respects it still hasn’t. But it was a magical trip for me and, as far as the critical savaging went, I don’t really think The Beatles gave a shit.

So for those who get it, just roll up, sit back and enjoy the trip.

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Kubrick’s Smoke and Mirrors: 50 Years of The Shining

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Savaged by the critics on release, Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining is now the Ulysses of film analysis

More has probably been written about Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining than any other of his canon, even 2001: A Space Odyssey. But what is it that compels sad people like myself to be constantly analysing every scene, every character, every iconographic element, every shot, even things that are not necessarily there?

But isn’t this why so many films prevail and maintain their interest with the viewing public and why so many films become classics rather than those that sweep over you and you’ve forgotten everything about before you’ve left the cinema?

It’s a criminally overused word and I’d avoid using it if I could but The Shining encapsulates everything about the adjective ‘iconic’. For me, it’s one of the few films that is not only better than it’s source material but actually transcends its genre. It irritates me hugely when I hear people refer to it as a horror film. It’s so much more than that. So much so that I won’t even try to describe it generically. On its release so many critics dismissed it for not having ‘enough shocks‘, for being ‘too slow or plodding‘ in its narrative, characters who were ‘hard to connect with‘. It was more than 10 years before critics began to re-evaluate it and see it as a film that broke generic, narrative and technical boundaries and it’s why viewers are still discussing it today.

Stanley Kubrick only made 12 films in 45 years. Half of this number were made in his first 10 years as a major studio director between 1955 and 1964. But his output not only became increasingly complex in style and narrative but covered most genres including science fiction, historical drama, comedy, war, dystopian fantasy and, ok, horror (but in its widest possible context!). His blockbuster SF film which trumpeted the fact ‘genius at work‘, 2001: A Space Odyssey was like nothing ever seen before in cinema. Over 50 years after its release it still seems way ahead of its time. The success of 2001 meant Kubrick could pick and choose what his next project was going to be and, true to form, he surprised the film world by choosing a fairly obscure dystopian fantasy novel by prolific British writer and academic Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (much more on this below). The furore this film caused, particularly in Kubrick’s adopted home in the UK caused him to withdraw it within a year of its release. He went on to make the uncontroversial historical drama Barry Lyndon, again from a lesser known Thackeray novel which, although performing reasonably well financially, it was, at the time, seen as a critical failure. Like so many of Kubrick’s films, Barry Lyndon has been re-appraised in recent years and seen as much more of a success than it was when released.

After the critical maulings he received for A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Kubrick decided on a different approach to his next project. He was going to make a film that would have widespread appeal due to its subject matter but would bear heavily the unique Kubrick stylistic imprint. And after reading many, many horror stories (some for only the first couple of pages) he landed upon a recent Stephen King novel entitled The Shining. Here he could see possibilities but that meant jettisoning much of King’s original story and retaining, pretty much, only the conceit and general framework of the source material. This, of course, did not please Stephen King although, over the years, he seems to have made his peace slightly with Kubrick’s version. And so he should as Kubrick removed many of the silly fantastical elements such as topiary animals which come to life and much of the run-of-the-mill hotel backstory and created an atmosphere and narrative that still fascinates.

To begin with the poster for the film is as enigmatic as the film itself. Kubrick was big enough in the film world at the time to go for the best and it was to the legendary Saul Bass he approached to come up with something suitably cryptic. Bass was responsible for classic poster and opening credit sequences for some of the greatest films ever made. In fact, often Bass’s work is remembered when the film may not be. He’s even credited with directing one of the most famous and most brilliant scenes in the history of cinema, the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

And Bass didn’t disappoint in the esoteric stakes coming up with an image that didn’t even appear in the film. Bass’s original design was red and featured a pointillistic, cartoonish doll-like character but typically Kubrick liked the image but opted for a yellow rather than red poster. Recently I attended the Kubrick exhibition at The Design Centre in London. There they displayed a number of other designs Bass had come up with, many of which, to me, were considerably more effective than the poster chosen. But there’s no point in attempting to fathom why Kubrick made the decisions he did. You just have to assume he’s usually right.

Three rejected Saul Bass posters with Kubrick’s hand-written comments

I don’t intend in this blog article to even summarise the story of The Shining as, in the unlikely event of anyone reading this article, most people will have seen the film anyway or at least know what happens in it. My purpose is to highlight some of the elements which make The Shining a film that so people return to again and again and constantly reinterpret. So my approach, as usual, will be scattergun, rambling and sometimes abstruse but this is what The Shining brings out in people like me. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

The film begins in suitably Kubrickian expansive way with aerial shots of the Torrance’s yellow beetle car moving beetle-like across a vast Coloradan landscape. Kubrick used electronic composer Wendy Carlos again to create the dark, foreboding, brooding soundtrack which accompanies the main characters journey towards their winter caretaking stint at the soon-to-be desolate Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. Carlos had created the futuristic soundscapes for Kubrick’s previous film A Clockwork Orange and The Shining would be her last collaboration with Kubrick as, according to her, too many compositions to accompany scenes in the film did not make it into the final cut. Anyone watching this film for the first time would be left in no doubt that these tiny characters were heading towards adversity given the tone and atmosphere built up by the musical opening.

The central character, Jack Torrance is played by Jack Nicholson who was Kubrick’s first choice for the role. Other actors to be considered included Robert De Niro, who it was possible to envisage as Torrance, Robin Williams, who it wasn’t, and Harrison Ford, who would have been more in keeping with Stephen King’s ideas for the part. Rather than Nicholson’s manic and menacing turn almost from scene 1, King wanted to see a decent character gradually deteriorate psychologically becoming a threat to his family through months of cabin fever in the Overlook Hotel and due to other types of supernatural influence. Nicholson’s performance was ridiculed as being overblown and hammy by many critics at the time but and one can’ t help but think that the meticulous Kubrick liked the idea of Nicholson’s, allegedly, coke-fuelled mania which just added to Torrance’s psychological collapse and descent into madness.

Jack’s first major appearance where he is interviewed for the job of out-of-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel immediately sets the scene for the rest of the film. He’s informed of a brutal murder which took place around 10 years before when the caretaker, at the time, Charles/Delbert Grady, went mad and killed his wife and two young girls with an axe. From then on Jack’s mental deterioration and gradual homicidal path is brilliantly represented through a series of masterly images and set pieces, leading to a ground-breaking steadi-cam inspired denouement in the hotel’s freezing maze.

The interview scene is intercut with scenes of Danny talking to a character he refers to as ‘Tony’ who is ‘inside his mouth’ who ‘tells him things’. Through Tony, Danny can see into the future and possesses abilities ordinary people don’t. Tony tells Danny something so terrifying Danny faints in utter shock and we are made aware that this has to do with the place they are going to be spending the winter the Overlook Hotel. When they arrive there Danny immediately strikes up a friendship with the hotel’s cook, Halloran, who has the same abilities and calls it ‘shining.’ Halloran is able to see Danny has these abilities but also makes him aware of what might happen when he is in the hotel alone and warns him off entering room 237. Soon Danny is seeing disturbing images from the hotel’s past which link to what Jack was told during his interview.

Much of the debate about the film surrounds the question of whether the hotel is actually haunted by the ghosts of its bloody past or is it all happening in Jack and even Wendy and Danny’s heads. This is where Kubrick diverges significantly with King. In Kubrick’s Overlook events are open to interpretation, nothing is ever quite what it seems and often metaphorical.

One of the enduring and memorable images from the film is of the elevator doors in the main reception opening and a torrent of blood emerging from them. This is a nightmare Danny experiences on more than one occasion, a nightmare that foreshadows the terrible events awaiting him at the Overlook Hotel.

Another criticism of the film, according to critic Roger Ebert, is that it lacks a ‘reliable’ observer. Jack is clearly unreliable from almost the moment he enters the hotel, Wendy is too sensitive and almost afraid of Jack to be aware of everything happening around her and there is so much going on in Danny’s head that it’s difficult to know just what exactly is really happening at any point in the film. This, I believe, is exactly what Kubrick wanted, if the characters are confused and bewildered then so will the audience.

All three characters see the ‘ghosts’ of the hotel at different times. Danny sees them from almost the moment he enters the hotel and this is due to his supernatural abilities. But Jack’s spectral encounters take longer to happen and are more problematic. Does he really see ghosts or is it his deteriorating psyche that is responsible for these illusions or even his alcoholism? Kubrick, of course, deliberately creates these enigmatic confrontations.

Your money’s no good here Mr. Torrance

Jack’s first meeting is with barman Lloyd after being accused by Wendy of attacking Danny. Here we find that Jack may have a problem with alcohol after he relates the story of when he injured Danny when he was still very young. Lloyd plies Jack with whisky, ‘Your money’s no good here Mr Torrance.’ But is this merely Jack losing his grip on reality with his desperation for a drink fermenting his delusions. Is he really drinking alcohol or just imagining it? Later in the film Jack walks into the ballroom again and this time it’s populated by the ghosts of the guests of the hotel from many years ago. As well as encountering Lloyd again he literally bumps into Delbert Grady, the former caretaker who killed his family some years previously. A chilling conversation takes place in the blood-red toilet as Grady cleans up the drink he spilt on Jack. It is here that we as viewers begin to almost accept that Jack is in conversation with a murderous ghost as Grady warns him of Halloran coming to help Danny and Wendy. If Grady was a figment of Jack’s feverish imagination how would Jack have known this? Grady advises Jack euphemistically that maybe Danny and Wendy need ‘correcting‘. We , as viewers at this point, know exactly what Grady is suggesting.

Perhaps they need ‘correcting’…

These pivotal ‘ghostly’ scenes where Jack supposedly meets both Delbert Grady and Lloyd the barman feature two stalwarts of Kubrick films, Philip Stone and Joe Turkel. Both actors appeared in three Kubrick films, more than any other actor. Stone also appeared in A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Turkel in The Killing and Paths of Glory. Both play parts of chilling low-key menace.

A second similar question arises when Jack is locked in the food store by Wendy. He hears Grady outside once again encouraging him to bring Danny and Wendy into line. And eventually the door is opened for him. If not a ghost, who lets Jack out? A few theories have been suggested as to how Jack escapes from the store room. For me the most plausible is that Danny let him out. Maybe Danny knew that this was the only way he was going to stop Jack murdering his mother and him and leading him into the maze was the most effective way. So why didn’t Kubrick let us see Danny do this? For the same reason so many other events were cloaked in mystery. Of course the director wants to keep us guessing, hence the lack of a reliable narrator which is just too predictable for Kubrick. He wants us to be as bemused, bewildered and beguiled as the characters. So if that’s the smoke, what about the mirrors? You may well ask.

As Jack prowls around the corridors and rooms of the Overlook, each time he appears to encounter some sort of apparition, mirrors are very close by. In Room 237, in the toilet when he encounters Grady, at the back of the bar when he encounters Lloyd the barman and even on the shiny metallic door when he hears Grady outside the storeroom. So does this mean that these ghosts are real or are they just transpositions or reflections of his own crumbling sanity? Is the evil he is apparently confronting just the mirror image of his own psychological deterioration? In the novel Jack finds a scrapbook which includes news clippings and photographs of things that happened at the Overlook since its opening in 1910, he already knew about Grady and maybe Lloyd the barman was a former employee he read about. In the film we see, at one point, the scrapbook sitting on Jack’s work table but is never referred to. It seems as if Kubrick, once again, decided that this was too much of an explanation or backstory for the events that followed and that he’d prefer viewers to be left rather more in the dark.

And let’s not forget about Wendy. Despite being oblivious, seemingly, to some of the things that are happening before her very eyes, when the shit hits the fan and she is frantically looking for Danny through the dimly lit back corridors of the Overlook, she almost literally bumps into some of the ghosts of the hotel past. The elderly man with the wound in his head, the man in the bear suit performing something beastly on another tuxedoed guest suddenly appear to her. Why?

In the US version of the film she runs into the ballroom to be met with previous guests, maybe the ones that were partying when Jack stumbled into Grady, but this time they are all skeletons. Strangely, Kubrick cut this scene from the European version of the film. Once again, did he feel a European audience didn’t need to be hit over the head metaphorically with images showing the ghosts of the hotel revealing themselves to Wendy? The skeleton scene, for me, is a step back into Carry On Screaming territory and detracts from the brilliantly enigmatic aspects of The Shining.

This place is dead.

But the question still remains. Why did it take so long for Wendy to see these apparitions? At the start of the film Halloran suggested to Danny that ‘shining’ might run in the family. He said that his grandmother and he used to have conversations without even opening their mouths as they both had the shining. So where did Danny get it? Danny clearly tries to suppress his abilities. He’s almost embarrassed to admit it to Halloran and maybe Wendy has suppressed this talent until she became so stressed that her shining began to manifest itself and she started to see the ghosts of the hotel through her unfiltered perception. Or maybe Jack also has the shining, hence his ability to encounter the characters from the hotel’s past. It might also explain why he knew about Halloran’s return.

The man in the bear suit is puzzling. At first I thought it was a reference to an episode from King’s novel that happened many years before the Torrances arrived at the Overlook. A gangster who stayed there used to humiliate one of his hangers-on by making him dress up and bark like a dog with tragic consequences. However, the man, if it is a man, is wearing what looks like a bear suit. A perfectionist like Kubrick would not substitute a dog suit for a bear suit for no reason. However, Rob Ager at www.collativelearning.com makes a very compelling case for this being part of an elaborate series of clues planted by Kubrick to suggest that Jack had been sexually abusing Danny. Now this might seem a bit of a stretch but it’s worth checking out what this analysis by Rob Ager has come up with. Certainly food for thought.

Another aspect of the film which is far superior to the novel is the ending. In the novel one of Jack’s main roles as caretaker is to look after the antiquated heating system which, after his breakdown, is neglected leading to Danny and Wendy escaping from the hotel with Halloran’s help just as the boiler blows up killing Jack who was still in there. The film version ending features one of the great edits in cinematic history cutting from a long scene with jack bellowing like a wounded animal to a static daylight image of him frozen to death. Sadly, for me, the final slow zoom into the photograph on the wall of the Overlook reception, finally focusing on Jack’s doppelgänger in the July 4th 1921 ball, suggesting Jack has been there in a previous life (You have always been the caretaker…) almost ruins the ending completely. But not quite. It’s as if Kubrick felt he had to throw the audience some crumbs of explanation but he needn’t have bothered, although it probably placated some critics looking for ‘closure’ of some kind.

The film has been responsible for a number of interesting contributions to popular cultural. The phrase ‘All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy‘ has become synonymous with the film. Jack has been hard at work on his new novel for weeks and even becomes aggressive with Wendy when she interrupts him one day. Jack then disappears from his desk and Wendy looks at the reams of typewritten sheets that he has compiled. To her horror very sheet has this same phrase written in different formations. It is at this point that she realises, although one suspects she always knew, that something has gone seriously wrong with Jack’s mind. Interestingly, other country’s versions used a different idiom to the English version. In Germany it was, rather mundanely, ‘Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What Can Be Done Today.’ Much more poetic was the Italian version: ‘The Morning Has Gold In Its Mouth.’ The French version was slightly more enigmatic: ‘One ‘Here You Go’ is worth two ‘You’ll Have Its’. Hmmm.

Every page typed out by Kubrick himself. Allegedly.

The scene in The Shining that everyone remembers is when Jack crashes through the bathroom door with an axe and announces ‘Heeeerrre’s Johnny!’ where a terrified Wendy cowers. When the film was released in the UK in 1979 few people would have recognised that phrase although everyone in the US would have. America’s biggest chat show was The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with an audience of millions. This programme was not broadcast in the UK at the time although it was for a short time in the 1980s. Johnny Carson would be introduced each night by his sidekick Ed McMahon with a ‘Heeeerrrre’s Johnny! It was as familiar to American audiences as ‘Ooh Betty!’ was to British audiences in the 70s. Although if Jack had used that one instead it might have had a slightly different effect. Two (quite) interesting facts about this iconic scene. Firstly, Nicholson improvised the line at the time and amazingly for perfectionist Kubrick, he decided to leave it in, and secondly as Jack Nicholson was a trained volunteer fireman the door he chopped down was a real one and, once again, given Kubrick’s meticulousness, a great many doors were harmed in the making of this film.

For a film that was described by one critic as ‘A crashing disappointment..’ at the time is now one of the most analysed films in cinema history, Jonathan Romney of The Guardian was closer to the truth when he called The Shining, ‘..a palace of paradox.‘ For a film that was nominated for more Razzies than any other Kubrick title and nominated for no Oscars (the only Kubrick film not to be) it continues to fascinate and puzzle 50 years since its release. This article has only scratched at the surface of this Joycean maze and there are so many more elements that could have been explored but to paraphrase the Italian idiom changed in the film, The Shining has, and always will, have gold in its mouth.

Kubrick’s smoke and mirrors continue to confound.

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Federico Fellini: His Life On Film?

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What is it that defines visually a Fellini film?

When attempting to describe a particularly chaotic scene he had witnessed, a friend once said to me, ‘It was like a Fellini film!’ Now this friend was far from being a cineaste, only visited the cinema occasionally and hadn’t even been to Italy, but he instinctively knew what a Fellini film looked like. This is true of many people who would never admit to being familiar with Italian Neo-Realism or any other style associated with cinema from that part of the world. So how do so many people know what a Fellini film looks like?

Fellini would have been 100 years old this year and, in celebration, digitally restored versions of his films have been released and are being shown at cinemas all over the world. As I watched Fellini’s Roma and La Strada as part of this centenary retrospective, my friend’s comment all those years ago came back to me. It made me realise that Fellini is one of the few directors in cinematic history whose body is work is so distinctive that a single scene or even a single frame from any of his films could be displayed and it would be immediately obvious who created it. One could also say the same thing about Picasso, Dali or Velasquez, for example, but these artists created static images. To talk about a film director in such illustrious company is rare.

So what is it about Fellini’s work that is so visually distinctive? How do people, whose interest in cinema is merely superficial, know what a typical Fellini scene looks like? To state the bleeding obvious, it’s the meticulous staging of his films, but how is this extraordinary, idiosyncratic ‘look’ created? There’s more to that than meets the eye…

Needless to say, there is no one element that, above all, creates the Fellini ‘look’ and, in no particular order, I am going to consider some the ingredients that coalesce to construct what we describe as ‘Fellini-esque.’ The scope of this article, however, is not an attempt to explain or decipher what these images necessarily mean, many critics have done this in extensive studies, although certain elements are briefly considered. But this is about the ‘look’ of a Fellini film and it is the ‘look’ that provides so much excitement and pleasure for the viewer. And it is this ‘look’ that raises Fellini above so many other artists and why so many other directors and auteurs cite him as a major influence.

Fellini began working in films with that giant of neo-realist cinema, Roberto Rossellini, and this, inevitably, influenced his earlier films profoundly. One of the tenets of neo-realism was the use of non-professional actors, a principle that Fellini stuck with throughout his career. Although he worked regularly with his principle actors, the brilliant Marcello Mastroianni and his muse (and wife) Giulietta Masina, the bulk of his cast were just ordinary people. Fellini was known to hang out in Piazza del Popolo in his adopted Rome where he would find ‘interesting’ looking people and ask them to be in his film. Who in Rome would turn down Italy’s greatest director? Fellini loved ‘grotesques’. Not grotesque in the sense of ‘ugly’ but as ‘fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms.’ Fellini’s characters were rarely the chiselled, beautiful people that usually populate films but ordinary people whose faces told a story, people who had lived through difficult times, people who Fellini saw as being uniquely Italian.

This use of compelling and engaging characters influenced a whole raft of American and European directors including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Nicolas Roeg and Pier Paulo Pasolini.

The way Fellini brought these characters together in scenes and introduced them to the viewing audience was also characteristic, large, long, sometimes round, often white-powdered faces suddenly lurching from the bottom or side of the frame to take up the whole screen.

His crowd scenes were often protracted and meticulously staged with a moving camera weaving and darting between the characters, often families, as they shout, bawl, eat, drink, fight, argue, dance, romance and perform. In these scenes the seething mass of humanity is the star, this is Italian life as Fellini sees it, the common denominator by which Italy is defined.

Fellini grew up in the 1920s in Rimini on the north east coast of Italy. Like most children at this time he was, of course, brought up catholic and this inevitably had an effect on him as nuns and priests feature in most Fellini films. His treatment of them is usually comedic and often surreal. The ecclesiastical fashion show in Roma is a classic satirical moment within his body of work. But pretty much any street or crowd scene will feature a bespectacled, grim looking priest or a gaggle of bewimpled nuns, for no other reason than they were ubiquitous in Italy at the time and had a profound influence on his early life, like all Italian children from this era.. Deliberate or not, they always added an element of comedy to any scene.

Fellini’s films are clearly autobiographical, but which elements of them are fact and which are fiction has been an ongoing source of debate. Fellini was always only too happy to muddy the waters on this subject and his treatment of the clergy is no different. Whether he was being critical about religion generally or just the Catholic Church is anybody’s guess. But it certainly made for hilarious cinema when a nun or priest suddenly darted into the shot in a typically Felliniesque scene for no apparent narrative reason. in a strange sort of way it has become comic because being a Fellini film, the viewer expects a nun or priest to suddenly appear unannounced.

Fellini claims to have run away to the circus when he was a child. Whether this actually happened, no one except Fellini himself really knows, but circuses and particularly clowns appear randomly and frequently in his films in a similar way to priests and nuns. He even made one of the first ‘mockumentaries’ about his obsession with clowns for Italian TV in 1970. Any Fellini film that failed to feature clowns in some way would be disappointing. But it’s Fellini. He doesn’t need a reason to feature them.

As so much of Fellini’s output is autobiographical, there are certain settings which feature in most of his films. Growing up in the coastal town of Rimini, beaches are a recurring setting in most of his films, particularly his early ones. In La Strada, for example, the film begins and ends on a beach. 81/2, La Dolce Vita and Amaracord all include scenes on beaches.

Empty night time Italian streets and piazzas are given prominence in many of his films. Often after a street has been heaving with action, humanity and life the central character is left alone to deal with their troubles, their melancholy, their dark night of the soul. With only stray dogs, a whistling wind and the harsh moonlight for company, the character reflects on their life as Gelsomina does in La Strada having run away from her harsh ‘keeper’, Zampano. The atmospheric nature of such a setting clearly struck a chord with Fellini whose tragic characters counterpointed the lively and animated nature of the crowd in the street earlier.

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Strange marching brass bands, sometimes of sad looking clowns, appear unheralded and disappear again, almost punctuating important moments. In La Strada they appear in the middle of nowhere as Gelsomina sits feeling sad and sorry for herself but the musicians motivate her to return to Zampano’s act. In 81/2 they march up and down Guido’s huge white elephant of a set, partly referencing Fellini’s love of the circus and partly motivating Guido to try and move forward with his film.

Although not a visual element Fellini’s random manipulation of time is characteristic of his narratives. He may spend half an hour of a film relating the events of a few days and then jump three years ahead, for no obvious reason. Similarly, flashbacks are common and sometimes not always made obvious to the viewer. Fellini’s Roma, for example, jumps around with time, from the autobiographical past to the fictional present, and vice-versa, and back again. One might think Fellini is deliberately trying to blur the edges of time and place to create a Roma that is the one in his head, which is, of course, what the film is all about.

Fellini’s narratives can also be erratic, disordered, uneven and most certainly episodic. In Roma the young Fellini (or who we are led to believe is the young Fellini) has an encounter with a prostitute who fascinates him and he asks our out on a date and she agrees. How the date went or their relationship developed, if at all, is left unanswered. Throughout this film we jump back and forward from the main character’s (Fellini’s?) childhood to his adolescence then to the present and rarely making any sort of narrative sense. But isn’t memory just a series of disordered snapshots in our mind? His films are like this sporadic stream of consciousness and fascinating for it.

Stylistically, Fellini uses the camera to assault the viewer in the most exciting way. Extreme close-ups, aerial shots, POV shots, hand held cameras weaving their way through heaving crowds, jump cuts, long , long takes, deep focus and sweeping dolly shots pepper his films. A Fellini film can be an exhausting experience and often one viewing is nothing like enough. The meticulous mise en scene, scattergun dialogue and ultra-fast editing does not always allow the eye and brain to take in what exactly is happening in each scene. Also taking into account a Fellini film can be over two hours long, this is a mind-blowing amount of material to try and deal with in one sitting. A writer described Fellini’s films as ‘..a luxuriance of ..images‘ and, as mentioned at the start of this article, a single freeze-frame could be seen to encapsulate Fellini’s ouvre.

Fellini has been described by some commentators as ‘self-indulgent‘ and even ‘complacent‘ but in many ways, with a true auteur such as he is, these are desirable qualities and his films have never look dated or ‘uncool’. Quite the contrary. Whether their context and ideas are still relevant is, for me, irrelevant, but they look amazing and never slow down for a second. They are a visual carnival and at a time when we are being bombarded with super heroes weekly, what’s not to like?

Three years ago I was on holiday in New York and stayed at a fashionable hotel in the ultra-hip Lower East Side. In the lift (or elevator as they would say) a screen showed Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2 on a loop 24/7. As old films go, it doesn’t come much cooler than that.

Fellini would have approved.

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A Clockwork Orange

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..after 50 years, a film that is still way ahead of its time.

It’s hard to convey how irresistible the desire to see Kubrick’s film of Anthony Burgess’ novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was for an 11 year old boy just becoming aware of grown-up literature. The only problem: it wasn’t possible to see it. Even at 15 you had an outside chance of being allowed into the cinema if the lighting was poor and your parka hood was pulled up over your head far enough. Video and DVD was a long, long way off so at 11 there were two chances. Fat and slim. 

Of course the media obsession with the film, as it was with any film that skirted with the term ‘controversial’, meant plenty information to entice a pre-teenager who had just graduated on to reading the tabloids on a Sunday. Tabloids just loved ‘controversial’ films. It allowed them to take a moralistic high ground while salaciously giving every lurid detail of the sex, drug-taking, horror or violence of even the most mild of adult flicks at the local flea-pit. The Exorcist, Carrie and The Devils were three examples of films released in the early 1970s on which the tabloids poured opprobrium, described every ‘depraved’ scene and, obviously, increased the numbers of people at the box office massively. The Scottish Sunday Mail ran a double-page spread listing, helpfully, in painstaking detail, every ‘gut-wrenching’ (its words) scene for the delectation of Sunday readers. No such thing as a ‘spoiler alert’ in those days. And I particularly remember the Scottish Sunday Mail wiring Alan ‘Roughie’ Rough and his lovely catwalk model wife to a heart monitor and logged their reactions to the various shock scenes in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. The purpose, I would assume, was to show that even a Scottish international goalkeeper with supposed nerves of steel could nearly shit himself at certain scary moments in a film, so decent, god-fearing presbyterians could steer clear. In theory.  In reality it just made people flock to see the film, of course. Well, that was the science bit, for what it’s worth, but it does demonstrate tabloid newspapers’ love of and obsession with ‘controversial’ films of the era. 

To be fair, A Clockwork Orange actually comes across today as more disturbing because of its violence. As a society we have recognised certain types of violence, particularly towards women, as unacceptable but in 1971 references and depictions of rape, though not commonplace, were certainly more visible. Jokes about it would even be used in sitcoms. However, in the context of Burgess’ novel the violence represented in the film was intended to be shocking and to watch it now renders it probably even more disturbing than at the time of its release. Exactly what the author intended. Belonging to the Science Fiction genre, it’s set in a futuristic Britain where drugs are legal, people rarely leave their homes and violence within society has escalated. Like most Science Fiction stories it is a warning for the future. 

One of the few aspects of Kubrick’s film which fails, mainly because there was no way it could have succeeded in relation to the novel, is in the character of Alex, played by 20-something Malcolm McDowell. The first half of Burgess’ novel tells the story of ultra-violent Alex and his gang of droogs on a rampage of sex and violence. At the end of this section of the book the reader is shocked with the sudden revelation that Alex’s orgy of violence has resulted in the death of one of his victims, an old lady, and he has been arrested. It is at this point he confesses to the reader the horrifying truth, ‘And me still only fifteen.’ Here is Burgess’ warning, his reason for writing the novel and justification for the repulsive rampage of violence the reader has been subjected to. But in practical terms, this fictional narrative device could not really be depicted in the film, Malcolm MacDowell does not look anything like a fifteen year old, and social commentators did not have the intelligence to discern this.

In the early 70s there were many so called ‘controversial’ films released. It was a time of experimentation and a loosening of censorship rules. In fact, ‘censorship’ became ‘classification’ as films were seen as art and not just cheap flicks to excite the lower, uneducated classes for a couple of hours in a members-only fleapit. Therefore, films which dealt with more disturbing issues, such as violence within our automated society became a popular theme and depicted violence and sex in a brutally realistic way which the general public and ‘the authorities’, at first, found difficult to cope with. Some thought it was still there only to titilate and thereby hung the tale of A Clockwork Orange.

The violence, even though I hadn’t seen it, certainly didn’t excite me. What excited me, from what I could make out, was the futuristic look of the film, the representation of a dystopian society (something I still love) and, of course, the controversy. I still, obviously, am drawn to things the tabloids hate.

The film had been out for a few weeks before I’d even heard of it. Bizarrely, the first time I read anything about A Clockwork Orange was in the pages of Shoot, the adolescent football magazine, more precisely in Everton and England footballer Alan Ball’s weekly column. The content of this column was unstintingly dull. After he had given his ghost-writer details of Everton’s most recent match it was a desperate struggle to find anything else to say to reach the required 500 words. Often the interviewer will have asked Alan, so what else did you do this week? The terminally boring life of a professional footballer was laid bare in these columns but one week in 1971 Al and his lovely wife, Lesley, went to see A Clockwork Orange. His critical conclusion, summed up in a sentence, was that he ‘slept through it.’ The moral question of whether a top footballer should have been discussing, no matter how curtly, a film he had seen about teenage ultra-violence, drug-adulterated milk bars, under-age sex, gang warfare and rape is by the by, it was the 70s after all. But I do have Alan Ball to thank for alerting me to this cult classic. I immediately decided to find out about this film, why would Alan Ball be referring to it if it wasn’t culturally important? 

I began to notice the iconic film poster with a cartoonesque Alex brandishing a knife through a triangle, a naked woman kneeling below the apex (always irresistible to an 11 year old), an eyeball sitting on his outstretched arm and, most intriguingly, the bowler hat and false eyelash on one eye! The futuristic typeface added a further appealing element to the whole package. This was seriously alluring. 

My fascination was further enhanced (if that was possible) when I actually managed to see an extract from the film. STV, at this time, had a film review programme which was broadcast at 10.30pm once a week called Cinema. Presenters of this programme included Michael Parkinson, Clive James and Robert Kee, and I think it was Parkie who showed a clip of A Clockwork Orange much to my excitement. In those days, obviously, there was no video recording so the 20 second black and white extract featured Alex and his Droogs racing through country lanes in a stolen sports car, this absolutely classic Kubrickian moment is indelibly stamped on my memory. This moment only cemented my fascination with the film and my frustration of not being able to see it. 

I only have vague memories of the media outrage about the copycat violence which they claim broke out as result of young people having their minds ‘warped’ by the movie. It was certainly a particularly strong defence in cases of extreme violence at the time, irrespective of whether there was any truth in it. Buttoned-up Establishment British judges were only too happy to accept the possibility that some depraved modern film might be the reason for our kids’ aggression. Clearly society couldn’t be to blame.

 The ‘look’ of the film certainly did influence young people. I do remember Crombie coats, Doc Marten’s boots and even the occasional false eyelash manifesting themselves in our high streets. Most of them daft wee laddies (and a few lassies) who just thought they looked cool but would have run a mile if anyone challenged them to a ‘bitva’! The media shitstorm, however, was enough for Kubrick to withdraw the film in the UK in 1973 and it remained unshown publicly in the UK until the director’s death in 1999. Rumour had it that a cinema in Paris showed it throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

The film’s iconic resonance has been enshrined by the fact that so many images are as well-known now as they were then. Certain words from Nadsat have found their way into common usage, for example ‘horrorshow’, ‘ultraviolence and ’droog’. ‘Moloko’ which was based on the Russian word for milk, and in the film is a narcotic-filled milk drink, became the name of a successful 90s band, as did Heaven 17, whose name is mentioned and shown in the record shop scene when Alex meets two girls whilst browsing in the store. Echo and the Bunnymen’s record label was entitled ‘Korova’ after the milk bar frequented by Alex and his droogs and let’s not forget about Glasgow’s underground transport system punningly named ‘The Clockwork Orange’. 

As Kubrick preferred to work in the UK, many of the actors in his films were familiar faces to British TV viewers as well as film-goers. Philip Stone, who appeared in three Kubrick masterpieces (more than any other actor apart from Joe Turkel), a fine jobbing actor who had appeared in countless TV productions since the early sixties, played Alex’s dad. Stone’s performance clearly resonated with Kubrick as he went on to appear in Barry Lyndon and, in his crowning achievement, as the Overlook Hotel’s former caretaker, a role in which he excelled as the courteous but terrifying Delbert Grady. A Clockwork Orange was also a huge break for the young Warren Clarke as one of Alex’s droogs, Dim. Like Malcolm McDowall and Philip Stone, Clarke went on to work in a range of prestigious productions not least with Lindsay Anderson in O’ Lucky Man. The lovely Adrienne Corri, like Stone a stalwart of quality TV productions, played the brutally assaulted wife of the writer, Patrick Magee. It was the writer, Mr Alexander, who, in the novel, told of the idea of a clockwork orange, a speech which, oddly, failed to make it into the completed film. Magee was a favourite actor of the great Samuel Beckett who wrote one of his greatest plays, Krapp’s Last Tape, specifically for Magee. Also popping up in the film was John Savident, another prolific British actor who ended his professional life as Foghorn Leghorn-like butcher Fred Elliott in Coronation Street. Having played in Shakespeare productions, many Wednesday plays and, of course, in A Clockwork Orange, it is Corrie, sadly, he will be remembered for by most people. That said, he did appear in 714 episodes, I say, 714 episodes! Michael Bates, best known as Blamire, one of the original characters on Last of the Summer Wine, is excellent as the sadistic prison officer (‘Shut your bleeding’ hole!’). He also appeared in every episode of It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum but the less said about that… Miriam Karlin as the cat lady, who comes to a nasty end at the hands of Alex, was well known for The Rag Trade (with a young Reg Varney!) and a fledgeling Steven Berkoff as a copper are just a few of the familiar faces, many of whom possibly didn’t realise just how much their parts were going to cement their reputations in the years to come.

Why does A Clockwork Orange still fascinate nearly 50 years later? Because, like so many Kubrick films, it looks ageless but futuristic, depicting a parallel universe which hasn’t been defined by the fashions of the time but clearly showed a world that is still ‘ours.’ The electronic Wendy Carlos soundtrack, the meticulous whiteness of the sets, the flowing strangeness of the typefaces, the sweeping camera shots, Alex’s direct looks into the camera (unusual for the time), Burgess’ ‘Nadsat’ argot as spoken on the voiceover by Alex, all come together to create a representation of such stunning originality that only an auteur like Kubrick could have had such vision.

And above all, to the curious teenager, it was an ‘X’. That most fascinating of all letters whose cultural cache is so much heftier than the dull old literal ’18.’ Here was a tantalising world almost within touching distance that held secrets open only to adults, who we were to assume had the intellect and maturity to cope with such esoteric and supposedly disturbing subject matter. Kubrick’s dystopian vision proved too much, however, for an adult population weaned on the hypocritical outrage of the tabloids, Mary Whitehouse and so-called public-decency. But for a short time in the early 70s A Clockwork Orange was the most state-of-the-art, modern, challenging and iconic artefact of its age. 

Despite the fact the concept of a clockwork orange is never even mentioned in the film.

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