Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Apartment

1960 - Dir.: Billy Wilder - 2 hours 5 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 22nd February, 2014

When Billy Wilder made “The Apartment” in 1960, offices were only on the edge of being mechanised and armies of people were needed to operate them. One of the opening shots in the movie shows Jack Lemmon as one of a vast horde of wage slaves, working in a room where the desks line up in parallel rows almost to the vanishing point. This shot is a deliberate tribute to King Vidor's silent film “The Crowd” (1928), which is also about a faceless employee in a heartless corporation. Strangely the “open plan” office has made a comeback in recent years. 
This is the director’s second collaboration with Jack Lemmon, who plays a variation on that recurrent Wilder character, the weak guy who becomes a pimp or a gigolo to advance his career. In this instance, he's an insurance company clerk who wins promotion by lending his Manhattan flat to lecherous senior employees, among them his chilly departmental chief, superbly played by Fred MacMurray, also making his second appearance in a Wilder film. Alexander Trauner's sets are unforgettable and Shirley MacLaine is deeply moving as the exploited lift attendant Lemmon comes to care for. One of the striking things about this film isn't the romance, or even the comedy, but the shabbiness, pettiness and nastiness of the office politics - many of us will sympathise!
The scene on the cold night on the park bench was really cold. Jack Lemmon had to be sprayed with anti-freeze to stop him frosting over.
The nasal spray was actually milk - real spray wouldn’t have shown up on the black and white flm
C.C. Baxter is just a poor worker - but inside his apartment are two authentic Tiffany Studios lamps, worth hardly anything when the film was made, but now worth between $30,000 and $40,000 each.

The Sapphires

2012 - Dir: Wayne Blair
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 14th February, 2014

This is a light hearted film but the plight of Australia’s native people is hardly the jewel in that county’s crown. Until 1967 Australian law classed Aboriginal people as "flora or fauna." The government had the authority to remove light-skinned native children from their families as part of a program (depicted in "Rabbit-Proof Fence") to make them part of the white community. It’s against this background that the film is set. The fact that it’s based on a real group and that they did indeed become successful despite all the odds is encouraging - but one fears that it is not the end of the story of Aboriginal repression. The film is co-written by the son of one of the real-life singers and directed by Wayne Blair, who starred in the play based on their story, "The Sapphires" is clearly a labour of love for all involved. It's also a warm tribute to four women for whom success as performers was just the beginning.
The film is only partially accurate - there really was an all-female Australian aboriginal singing group named The Sapphires in the 1960s, although originally there were three of them: Laurel Robinson (the mother of screenwriter Tony Briggs), Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers. They performed at hotels, pubs, cabarets, clubs, parties, army barracks and universities around Melbourne. When they were invited to Vietnam to perform for the troops, Briggs and Mayers declined, as they were against the war, so Robinson enlisted her sister Lois Peeler to join her. In Vietnam, the duo of Robinson and Peeler performed backing vocals for a New Zealand Maori band they had performed with in Melbourne. It was this Maori band who introduced them to soul music; the character of Dave Lovelace, portrayed in the film by Chris O'Dowd, did not exist.... but without him there would have been no love story... and without the feisty four it wouldn’t have been half as entertaining. There was controversy surrounding the film’s American release when the distributor chose to promote Chris O’Dowd as the “star” and relegated the band to the background. 
The Sapphires was an enormous box office success in its native country - the biggest earner of 2012. Despite a clutch of awards from film festivals around the world, the big distributors chose to ignore it. It received minimum publicity for a minimal release of just 5 weeks at “selected screens” in the UK  and fared equally poorly in the USA. As is often the case it has been left to community cinemas and film societies to pick up the pieces and the film has been showing throughout the country to packed and appreciative houses. We’re delighted to be part of this “underground” circuit.


2012 - Dir.: Dustin Hoffman - 1 hours 38 minutes
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 25th January, 2014

All of a sudden it’s OK to be old in the movies - not only old but old and British. A crop of box office hits including “Calendar Girls” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” convinced the big cinema chains that the wrinkly pound was worth chasing. It won’t last long of course. The studio executive committees are busy grinding out predictable clones and there have already been a couple of fairly nauseating examples - including one that virtually repeated the plot of Calendar Girls (only with chaps - try not to think about it!). 
Quartet could easily have turned out that way but it’s saved by a director who eats, sleeps and dreams cinema - and who, surprisingly, has never directed a film before. Dustin Hoffman was 75 when he first shouted “action” on a movie set and you can feel his determination to make this one count (perhaps his first and last chance?) - undoubtedly his sympathy for the subject matter is perfectly natural. He’s helped by a literate script by Sir Ronald Harwood (76) who rewrote his stage play of the same name. 
The play ran in London in 1999 and 2000 and was a popular success.  The Daily Telegraph commented: "...the show's heart is in the right place and a cherishable company of senior thesps give it everything they’ve got, breathing vitality into a script that could be an inert embarrassment if performed by less accomplished players." The senior thesps involved in 1999 were  Sir Donald Sinden, Alec McCowen, Stephanie Cole and Angela Thorne. Tonight’s quartet are no less senior and no less cherishable!
Tom Courtney (75), Maggie Smith (78), Billy Connolly (70) and Pauline Collins (72) relish the chance to prove that it really ain’t over until the fat lady stops singing.
PLEASE REMAIN SEATED DURING THE CREDITS - apart from the fact that the music is beautiful, there are fascinating “then and now” pictures of members of the cast - many of whom have been performers on the operatic and musical stage for a very long time (opera lovers should look out for former Royal Opera stars Dame Gwyneth Jones (76) and John Rawnsley (a mere 62).