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The Late Show: Michael Powell (1992)
Decline, Fall and Rise of a British Lion
As "The Late Show"'s Tracey MacLeod explains at the start, this fine 40-minute documentary was shown to coincide with the publication of Michael Powell's second, posthumous volume of autobiography in 1992. I haven't read either book, but this could be why it skims so rapidly over his glory days working for J. Arthur Rank and focuses on the period from "The Red Shoes" onwards: the lesser works, the struggling to find funding for ambitious projects, the act of professional suicide that was "Peeping Tom," then the years of impoverished obscurity before Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker gave him a new lease of life. So it might not be the best place for a tyro to start, but should be watched back-to-back with the 1981 "Arena" documentary, which takes the exact opposite approach.
Most Hated Man in British Pictures?
I sought out this half-hour documentary after reading Alec Guinness's diary "My Name Escapes Me". Guinness describes watching the film when Channel 4 showed it in 1996, and being disappointed that it wasn't hard enough on its subject, Rank executive John Davis. Which is savage, because hardly anyone in the film has a good word to say about him. Plenty of former Rank employees talk about his personal egotism and ruthlessness, and unimaginative grinding out of repetitive low-budget fare professionally, a far cry from Korda, Powell, Pressburger and Olivier's ambitious epics of the '30s and '40s; Betty Box's description of Davis habitually checking out her legs and her pointed comments about him attending premieres with "his consort, whoever it was" makes him sound like a 1950s Harvey Weinstein.
Aside from personal odium, there's a lot of interesting detail about post-WW2 British film production. As well as the Rank Organisation's decision under Davis to "diversify" into lucrative photocopiers (and other less lucky ventures), it's touched on that the Attlee government's kindly attempts to protect the domestic film industry spawned a huge number of terrible films; if Davis ruined British movies, he clearly had one or two helpers. Production company Large Door have uploaded this film onto their website, and made it available via YouTube.
This scarred my childhood psyche...
...and I was beginning to think I'd imagined it, as they never repeated this show. Vivid memories of grown men, some with moustaches as I remember, pretending to be nuns and telling the girl heroine how naughty she was. Highly disturbing and, if I recall correctly, quality children's entertainment.
The Star They Loved to Hate
This solid documentary short's title refers to Mason's evil-but-sexy persona of the 1940s, in movies like The Seventh Veil and The Wicked Lady. The man himself, in interview footage shot just before his death, is courteous and mild-mannered in the extreme, tearing up at memories of A Star is Born's climax. With so much ground to cover, the film pretty much ignores all his movies after 1970, but if that means no footage of Bloodline or Yellowbeard, that's possibly a blessing.
Ludwig II (2012)
In the Court of the Swan King
I'm not sure why this has such a low rating while Visconti's sluggish, badly dubbed movie is considered a masterpiece. All the acting is fine; the relationship between the king and his handsome equerry Hornig is sensitively and sympathetically handled; there's plenty of Wagner on the soundtrack and, as you would expect, plenty of smashing shots of castles.
Martin Luther, Heretic (1983)
A good short-ish TV movie (not much longer than an hour) about Martin Luther. We get to see Luther's private pangs of conscience as a monk; his teaching, as a lecturer, the doctrine of justification by faith alone; his denunciation of the Pope's cynical exploitation of Germany through the sale of indulgences; the Pope's consequent ban on him; and the protection of him by German princes (more for worldly than spiritual reasons), all leading up to his speech at the Diet of Worms. BBC costume-dramas of the early '80s were not handsome cinematic big-budget affairs: the audience were expected to focus on the acting and the writing. So this isn't a feast for the eyes, but at its heart is a fine performance by Jonathan Pryce as Luther (my only reservation would be that he's scrawnier than the real Luther, a bull-necked coalminer's son). Like John Osborne in his stage play, scriptwriter William Nicholson does not make Luther perfect and all his opponents stupid or venal: sometimes he seems more a man of doubt than faith, destroying the unity of medieval Christendom because of his own private demons.
Justice in Wonderland (2000)
don't watch if you're not a Tory
There are a lot of talented actors in this dramatization of the Hamilton scandal, but the bias on display was enough to make my blood boil. Mohammed Al-Fayed and his lawyer, the late George Carman QC, are represented as comically venal and corrupt, and Neil Hamilton (very much not as movie-star handsome as Charles Dance in real life) is portrayed as a great man brought low by a tragic flaw. The movie ends with a freeze-frame of Dance's face as the judge passes sentence, and a crash of dramatic music on the soundtrack, as if we're witnessing the fall of Caesar. Let's just say it helps to share Mr Hamilton's image of himself if you're going to watch this; personally I'd recommend "Mr White Goes to Westminster" instead.
Inspector Clouseau (1968)
The great Alan Arkin, all at sea
Bad movies with bad actors acting badly are just blah. Bad movies where you can see great actors struggling (with bad material or parts that don't fit them) bring their own special kind of pain. Watching Alan Arkin and Frank Finlay trying to make one of their unfunny scenes work, I realised that these two guys had five Oscar nominations between them. You may read in some places that this film is an overlooked gem. It isn't. Avoid it.
Shaw documentary leans on later years
A decent documentary about the actor Robert Shaw; made for Irish TV, which explains not only the Gaelic subtitles when a new interviewee appears but its emphasis on the small community in County Mayo where he lived at the end of his life. The concentrating on his latter years (he deep-sixed his writing and stage careers and did movies of varying quality to support his family, dying quite young) makes it a little sad, but all interviewees seem to have fond memories of him.