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Pilloried in the decade that was His Time, Richard Lester had radishes
thrown at him for being "modish," gimmicky, aggressively hip. (The great
Manny Farber was uncharacteristically cruel, cruel.) He may seem in some
lights like the Austin Powers of auteurs, but time has been kind both to his
formal gifts (as magnificent as Nicolas Roeg's--or David Fincher's) and to
the complicated, unsentimental, but hard-beating heart at the center of his
movies. At least one Lester work, 1968's PETULIA, ranks among the greatest
movies ever made. This little-seen classic, a sort of British-seaside
ENDGAME, gets my vote as the most thrillingly beautiful end-of-the-world
Coauthored by the "Goon Show" genius Spike Milligan, this post-apocalypse omnibus of sketches suggests John Osborne's Archie Rice rewriting an absurdist play by Gombrowicz. Tweedy lord Ralph Richardson post-atomically mutates into a bed sitting room while sixtyish, uncombed Michael Hordern uses the state of general unrest to get into bed with Rita Tushingham. (Her pregnancy arouses Hordern--until she gives birth, after seventeen months, to what is either a bird or a large pile of felt.) And above it all, Peter Cook flies on a hot-air balloon as a sexy cockney sadist--the post-nuclear Prime Minister to be, the first-draft choice of the Clockwork Orange Party.
A plot summary does no justice to Lester's and the DP David Watkin's images, which challenge the Vesuvian frescos of FELLINI SATYRICON for sheer overwhelmage. And the work of Lester's longtime composer Kenneth Thorne, with its English merriment never once acknowledging its own irony, ranks with the tip-top achievements of Rota or Morricone. This is a beautiful, haunting, great, sadly completely forgotten movie. Film hipsters have had their day lapping up Lucio Fulci and Jess Franco. Bring back a guy who once had a real job! Up with Lester!
This is a visually stunning, funny, brilliant, and extravagantly weird
that should best be compared to El Topo, Barbarella, Playtime, and the
Cremaster series. It's the kind of movie made with a big studio budget
free artistic reign; a combination that existed in other late 60s and
70s bombs that have become cult classics.
Imagine if Monty Python did a lot of LSD, spent a million dollars on art direction, and then made a nuclear-apocalypse satire. Each shot is as sumptuous and symbolically rich as any Mathew Barney created - what with middle class Brits walking on a field of broken china, Underground escalators that end in mid-air, and Cathedrals submerged in water. Plot-wise, this is as free-of-field as an experimental film. Whether you think it profoundly beautiful or profoundly ugly, the look is in the Quay brothers'/Dubuffet mold. Its narrative loosely strings together amazing images, costumes, and poignant, often hilarious scenes of British society desperately trying to hold on to any remaining shards of civilization. The Bed Sitting Room is full of sarcastic comments and profound notions. It is not full of plot - it's amazing without it.
If there is any chance to see this movie on screen, take it. Any frame is worth the price of admission.
This is a wonderful surreal comedy based on the play by Spike Milligan and
John Antrobus. You know that it is going to be an odd film right at the
beginning, when the opening credits list the cast in order of their height.
The film begins with the BBC (Frank Thornton) telling us through the facade
of an old television that this is the third, or is it the fourth?,
anniversary of the shortest war in history, lasting 2 hours and 28 minutes.
England is now a barren landscape, littered with derelict cars and
buildings, hills of old boots, broken crockery, and other debris. Forty
million people perished and there are only 20 known survivors. The Queen did
not survive, and of the 20 known survivors the next in line for the throne
is a Mrs Ethel Schroake of 393a High Street, Leytonstone. Among the other
survivors are Ralph Richardson (O Lucky Man!) as Lord Fortnum of Alamein,
who isn't looking forward to his impending mutation into a bed sitting room.
Michael Hordern is Bules Martin, who wears a 18-carat Hovis bread ring.
Spike Milligan is a postman who wanders around and delivers some memorable
dialogue, for example: "And in come the three bears - the daddy bear said,
'Who's been sleeping in my porridge?' - and the mummy bear said, 'that's no
porridge, that was my wife' ". Arthur Lowe is slowly turning into a parrot
(which is then eaten by Spike Milligan), while his wife, the owner of her
own death certificate, turns into a wardrobe. His daughter is pregnant with
a strange creature, which she has held inside her for seventeen months.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are a pair of policemen who perpetually tell the
others to "keep moving!". Moore growls a lot and turns into a dog at the
end. Marty Feldman is a wellington-boot-wearing nurse. It's a hilarious,
absurdist treat, and one of my treasured filmic pleasures.
Some far thinking person at our new state of the art Village Twin
Cinema decided to run The Bed Sitting Room and 2001: A Space Oddyssey
as a double bill here in the very early '70's. That's where I first saw
both and they have been locked in my consciousness as equally great and
poignant comments on the "future". In one we get to boldly explore
space, the other has us desperately rummaging in our own refuse to
In August 2001 I wrote "I ache to see "Bed Sitting Room" again. Arthur Lowe and Mona Washbourne were exemplary, as was Ralph Richardson (and all of the rest). With the torrents of abominable drivel that has made it to DVD release, it is hard to fathom why such a unique gem is not even available on VHS. If there is a God he will inspire a DVD mogul to master and release The Bed Sitting Room, for the good of humanity - if not for my sake alone."
So now I am overjoyed that the Bed Sitting Room has been made future-proof and available to the general public in the carefully restored high definition MGM transfer which was simultaneously released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK in 2009 by the British Film Institute. Both versions have valuable extras and a very helpful booklet.
Richard Lester's directorial career went into nose-dive (at least for a
while) after making this film, which was a pity. It's a post-apocalyptic
black comedy like no other. Typically British and typically Milligan-ish,
with a stunning visual sense.
What I enjoy most about this film is its uncompromising weirdness. It's incredibly inventive, if not particularly funny, and also quite depressing - but it has to be, dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war.
There are some excellent performances from a cast which seems to contain most of the outstanding British comedy talent of the last thirty years (Marty Feldman is particularly fine) and some pointed satire about the British "stiff upper lip", but it's the surreal visuals which stand out, including the remains of a motorway with hundreds of cars half-buried in mud, and an escalator emerging into a landscape almost entirely composed of broken crockery.
A flawed masterpiece.
Buried in the sheer oddity and downright perversity of the humour there is a
deep pathos. People of all classes from Lord to lunatic try through
activities and language to cling to a civilization represented by heaps of
objects. The horrors of holocaust are tempered by humour arising mainly
from the ridiculous pretensions of the cast. Every mainstay of British
middle and upper class culture has been made absurd - some of the characters
are busy mutating into absurd objects - a bed sitting room, a wardrobe, a
parrot. The humour is zany, the one-liners often mixing double entendre,
understatement and naievity with real pathos. Arthur Lowe as the pompous
father, Mona Washbourne as the all-sympathetic mother can bring a lump to
The nearest rival to Milligan's and Antrobus' satire is to be found in Swift. Lampooning society after it has endured the very worst of tragedies and demonstrating through a torrent of absurdities, that human decency survives is something difficult to sustain in text, but this Fellini-like panorama could never be contained by the pages of a book. It almost defines one of the things which film can do best.
It is ragged and patchy - but a film which includes Harry Seacombe as a 'regional seat of government' defies conventional criticism!
With it's completely surreal narrative and winning photography, The bed
Sitting room hits me now for a number of reasons, the first of which,
is that despite looking strangely contemporary, all it's main leads
(Except the young uns) are dead. Marty Feldman, Micheal Horden, Arthur
Lowe, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Sir
Ralph, are all pushing up the daisies. There's something tragic about
the cast in a comedy all being dead. For all intense and purposes, the
film may as well be dead too as it was blind luck that I caught it. It
is criminal that this bona fide classic never really made it past the
main gates, while lesser films took the glory.
Made by Richard lester (A hard Days Night, Superman 2 & 3) in 1969, just before Monty Python hit pay dirt, it tells the story of Brits after the bomb, working class through to upper, it encapsulates the British eccentricities perfectly. It's pomposity and its sheer blooded bloody optimism. These characters, you might see on the tube on the way to work and despite furniture mutation and hunger, they're just the same. It's a testament to all concerned, that a potentially silly premise, is performed with total conviction and a little tragedy. It's especially weird to see Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Micheal Horden as leads. In such a bizarre film, it swings the whole experience into brain frying proportions. It'd be like having Sir Ben Kingsley play Ace Ventura, Pet detective.
Another reason, this film is a triumph, is the superb set design and photography. While in Monty Python, it's surrealistic landscapes, while funny and inventive, never really touches the views on offer here, What was essentially a quarry, is now landmarks of Britain, with bits of it sticking out all over the place. stacks of shoes, dismembered traffic jams and indeed Bed sitting rooms clog up the toxic horizon, all glum and desolate, you half believe the story, as the landscape seems sort of real. I'll bet my mums dog that Python was influenced by the designs on display here. As the film was based on a play (By Spike Milligan and John Antrobus) I wonder how it looked in a theatre.
There you have it, a classic film in every way if you like that sort of thing. If you catch it, you'll wonder if you saw it, then you'll be angry that you've never heard of it, after that you'll never forget it, it's just a shame you'll probably never get to see it...
This is a movie that has followed me all throughout my life even though I have only watched it one time approx. 22 years ago. The classic British humor in this prepared me to enjoy other comedy such as Monty Python. I am new to the net and am desperately trying to purchase a copy of this masterpiece to dedicate to the now deceased friend I had watched it with years ago. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
I saw it in 1969 and will never forget it.
The cast was a fine cross section of the best Pommie comedy actors of the period.
The sight of Marty Feldman in a nurses uniform with Crossed Bandoliers of syringes was surpassed only by Harry Secombes ode to the Pin Up.
Would love to get it on Video - Does anyone know how we can get it onto CD, Video, whatever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mischief is afoot from the very start of this very British apocalypse:
"Cast in order of height" declares the credits of The Bed Sitting Room,
as smaller performers like Rita Tushingham and Dudley Moore, and taller
ones like Peter Cook and Ralph Richardson turn mad, or into furniture
through atomic mutation, in a London turned Neolithic through
technology. An A-Bomb in Wardour Street, indeed. However, as Pink Floyd
once sighed, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way" and,
as always, small island ritual, tradition and stiff-upper lips must yet
prevail, even after World War III.
Amid such bombed-out devastation (in reality, a disused quarry in Surrey), one man powers the national grid by pedalling furiously on a bicycle dynamo; Frank Thornton's BBC man, formal and proper in exactly half a tuxedo, declaims yesterday's news through a shell of a television set (and closes with a rendition of the revised national anthem "God Save Mrs Ethel Shroake of 393a High Street Leytonstone"); and Arthur Lowe's family man rides endlessly round the Circle Line with his wife and 18-month pregnant daughter, subsisting on chocolate bars purloined from tube station vending machines.
Elsewhere, Marty Feldman's cross-dressing Nurse Arthur roams the desolate terrain, personally delivering death certificates to the living: "I thought I was alive, but here it is in black and white" exclaims Mother (Mona Washbourne). "Do I lie down or something?" Nevertheless, she too has begun the inexorable Dali-esquire transformation into a cupboard ("Get your hand out of my drawers!"), just as her Prime Minister husband will transmute into a parrot - soon to be cooked and eaten by Spike Milligan's passing postman. "Guess this'll mean a by-election," he observes, gnawing on a wing.
Although, as conversions go, Lord Fortnum of Alamein (Ralph Richardson) achieves the most startling of all: he turns into a bed sitting room. "What do I take for it?" he enquires of Michael Hordern's roving GP. "Three guineas for your rent," comes the reasoned reply. And aggrieved at having wound up in Paddington, or what's left of it, Fortnum demands the doctor place a "No coloureds" sign in his window. Hovering above them all, in a clapped-out Volkswagen tethered to a hot air balloon, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's bowler-hatted policemen bark through megaphones at the straggling survivors to "keep moving - you're safer that way".
"How long is this sh*t going to go on for?" a United Artists executive barked at director Richard Lester during a company screening. At times, contemporary audiences might ask the same question of this near-plot less, relentlessly absurdist sketchbook, overwhelming and fatiguing in its obsessive-compulsive gag-making. Loosed from the comparatively reigned-in parameters of a half-hour's 'Goon Show', Milligan's manic (depressive) wit exhausts and repels as often as it delights, until it eventually burns itself out.
As 'The New Yorker's' Pauline Kael wrote about an earlier Lester film The Knack, but her argument can also be applied here, "If there are enough gags, perhaps the audience, panting to keep after them, will not worry about why they don't go anywhere." In other words, 'Too many jokes, Mozart.' Neither is the film helped by the presence of Sir Harry Donald Secombe CBE, the human equivalent of a housefly repeatedly dive-bombing a window pane.
The film's original tagline 'We've got a bomb on our hands' may have proved horribly prescient, but The Bed Sitting Room remains a haunting, dazzlingly inventive original, sporting more ideas, half-birthed or otherwise, than most movies of whatever genre, during its every minute of screen time. It is also strikingly photographed by David Watkin, who went on to lens The Devils, and ingeniously dressed by Assheton Gorton, the art director responsible for painting an entire South-east London street red for Blow Up.
That million dollar budget was certainly put to good use too. Against a dystopian backdrop common to every post-apocalyptic sci-fi from A Boy And His Dog to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, there are some unforgettable images and uniquely homegrown touches: a tube escalator ending in mid-air; two lovers dancing in a vast field of smashed crockery; the dome of a submerged St Paul's Cathedral, rising from the sea.
If the film's antecedents include everyone from Flann O' Brien to Samuel Beckett, its influence on those that followed is clearer still. A link-chain between The Goons and Monty Python, it is The Bed Sitting Room's fate to be remembered more as midwife, a Baptist to successive prophets of comedy, than as star in its own right.
All the same, it is fascinating to observe it going about its business at a very particular juncture on the comic timeline. At this point, the spirit of satire, personified by Peter Cook, is figuratively and literally floating above proceedings, while Spike's shrieking Goonery is still very much on the ground. Here's the man himself delivering a custard pie in the face, as a postman would deliver a parcel ("Just sign here"); here's his voice, clear as day, riffing through other characters with throwaway one-liners: "I hear the Pope's allowing contraceptives for all occasions, except during sexual intercourse..."
Satire will out, but it's a dismal victory in anybody's book. At time of writing, 2009, the British political system is busily imploding, with numerous politicians having been caught with their arms in the till, helping themselves to extra expenses for imaginary mortgages or using taxpayers money to clean out their moats. This, during an era in which the economy itself is in freefall. In The Bed Sitting Room, Arthur Lowe elects himself Prime Minister one morning, simply because he measures his inside leg and finds he's "very well equipped... I always knew my inside leg would lead to power".
Amid calls for a referendum on proportional representation, and with the democratic process under review, who's to say ministerial postings shouldn't be decided by the mathematical exactitude of an inside leg measurement? At least it wouldn't be open to interpretation.
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