Mr. Arkadin [1955)

I am a bad film critic.

A good, bad film critic.

Because this is one of those films which requires a certain attention to detail.

Get the damn title right.

So what is it?

I have just watched the British version…we’ll call it (adhering to common practice) Confidential Report.

I had seen this once before.

To me it was always Mr. Arkadin.  I didn’t realize the level of controversy surrounding this film’s numerous versions.

But let me point something out.  All of the versions are within a few minutes of each other.  Sure, some are in Spanish.  That makes a difference.  But at a certain point it is splitting hairs.  Either you’ve seen this thing or you haven’t.

I can understand the legalistic approach to film preservation when it comes to this picture.

If the whole thing isn’t presented as a flashback, I can see how the composition might be negatively affected.

But who cares?  Bogdanovich?  Sure…I care too.

And so let’s get around to why one should even care in the first place.

This is a magnificent movie!

I didn’t really think so the first time I saw it.

It’s possible to see this film and be caught in a The Big Sleep haze.

So maybe it does depend on the version.

Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be confusing.

Yet, there’s something nice (pleasant) about being confused.

If this was a universal maxim, I would walk around with a smile on my face perpetually.

But the confusion here is a rare sort.

When I first saw Mr. Arkadin I mainly “retained” (absorbed?) only its mood.

Something was happening.  Orson Welles was a shadowy character.

There wasn’t a sense of continuity.

But here’s another possibility.

This film needs (deserves) to be seen more than once.

The action moves fast.

Weird things are afoot.

The whole film is a sort of riddle.

And the symbolism is as stinky-strong as Roquefort.

Wikipedia might lead you to Basil Zaharoff, but my mind was wandering more towards George Soros and/or Rupert Murdoch.

Even Jeff Bezos…these guys who feel compelled to protect their corporate empires by buying the Wall Street Journal (or Washington Post).

We make fun of Kissinger because he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

We make fun of Obama for the same reason.

Neither deserved it.  [the prize]

It is as repugnant as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But really, we are dumb.

We Lumpenproletariat.

Lumpy Gravy.

We lump together Kissinger with Brzezinski.  And then we throw Soros in for good measure.

And to top it all off, we place Murdoch like a cherry atop the mystère.

There is no mystery.

Bouvard and Pécuchet are aghast.

Maybe he was born in Muğla.

Perhaps he died in Monte Carlo.

Methods.  Experiments.

This is the dossier on Mr. Arkadin.

You are paying to have yourself spied on.

Whether you like it or not.

Because, with all you have been through, you can’t even remember your real identity.

Oh yes…the tired trope of super-soldier pap and shows like Blindspot.

We almost buy it.

It goes a long way.

But it falls short.

Too few comma splices.

Yes, too few.

I will, be, here with Pynchon.  Is not a comma splice.

This is approaching the time in which firemen SET fires.  Bradbury.  Truffaut.

And among the contraband is Tropic of Cancer.

Yes, my heart rends a bit.  As I reach out.

Julie Christie…the rumors are true.

A shamus hired by a murderer.

Belgrade.  Zürich.

Orson Welles is painting a portrait of Europe.

Corruption.

A song for Europe.

Mother of pearl.

They say Rothschild came in.

Always came in.  But with a nice glass of Lafite.

ONI was sniffing around.  They were the first.  Good old chaps!

War profiteering runs all through the story of Basil Zaharoff.

And Orson Welles borrows this story artfully.

As when Patricia Medina is drunk on the yacht.

All through the film.  Those expressionist camera angles.  Vertov.  Ruttman.

But with the wine…more sinister.  As Arkadin is lucid.  Listening.  Gathering intelligence.

DYB.

We need a new generation of jet fighters.  Though the last generation never saw action in a real war.  Hasn’t been a real war since WWII.  Profiteers are restricted in their movements.

The Spanish Empire finally collapsed because of this corruption.  Will it happen in the exact same manner to the United States?

The parallels are more similar than Rome.

It is too much.  The shoddiness of these machines.  I must stop here.

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 11 [1976)

Just as Buck Henry had me stumped in the last episode (Buck Who?), Peter Cook threw me for a loop right off the bat here.

Dudley Moore I knew, but Cook?  No idea.  In terms of firsts, this appears to be the first SNL hosted by more than one person (simultaneously).

Cook met Moore while at Cambridge University as a student (Cook) of Radley and (later) Pembroke Colleges.  Moore, on the other hand, was himself a student at Magdalene College (pronounced “maudlin”) of Oxford University.  They started performing together in these school days.

But the act which Cook and Moore were essentially reviving on this night in 1976 was their comedy duo which powered the BBC’s Not Only…But Also (1965-1970).  We can be fairly confident of this based on their throwback chestnut Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling.

Sir Streeb-Greebling’s featured skit (Table Talk) is one of the highlights of this episode.  In it, we learn of the knighted eccentric’s restaurant Frog & Peach (which serves, unsurprisingly, frog…and peaches [exclusively]).  If I remember correctly, the two dishes on the menu are frog à la pêche and, conversely, pêche à la frog.  This bit of absurd, excellent humor is indicative of the talents which Cook and Moore possessed as both writers and comedians.

Cook and Moore additionally did film work together such as Bedazzled (1967).  For all of you Yo La Tengo fans out there, this gives me an opportunity to wax informative on the song “Tom Courtenay”.  It is one of my favorite YLT songs (from the excellent Electr-O-Pura album).  Perusing the lyric sheet of the above song, not only is English actor Courtenay mentioned in the title (the narrative is likely from his perspective) but Julie Christie makes an appearance (her name being the first words sung by Ira Kaplan).  For our purposes, however, it is simply enough to point out that the real “star” of said lyrics (Eleanor Bron) played Margaret Spencer in Bedazzled.

Moving on…

Now that I have spent an inordinate amount of time on Cook and Moore, I should point out something important.  Saturday Night Live in its inaugural season was attracting what might be called B-list entertainers.  To illustrate this point, I would direct readers to my piece on the previous episode.  To have Bill Withers do but one song and have it be a tune from 1971 (on a 1976 broadcast) illustrates this point which has a parallel in Cook and Moore (who were ostensibly rehashing material from their show which ran 1965-1970).

But credit must be given to the comedic duo in question who persevered and relocated to New York City in 1973.  They did, in fact, win a Tony and Grammy for their production Good Evening.  This success was parlayed (partially) into a more risqué act where they assumed the personalities Derek and Clive.  In total, this new incarnation was featured on three LPs (that would be, for the young’uns, VI-NYL/RE-CORDS).

Ok, so Cook and Moore weren’t totally washed up.  That much is obvious when seeing this episode.  In fact, I find their humor much more effective than most of the hacks which preceded them as hosts.  The “One Legged Tarzan” skit near the top of the show exemplifies their shrewd method of laugh-getting.

It should also be mentioned that stars on one side of the pond aren’t necessarily stars on the other.  And so, dear readers, you must forgive my ignorance regarding Cook.  I have now done my research.

I should mention a further two bits.  Cook himself went on to work with some of my favorite musical acts (Sparks and 10cc).  That Ron Mael, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme saw something in this chap is good enough for me.

Again, the separation between British and American entertainment really can’t be overemphasized.  I know there is a Doctor Who craze in the States now, but (back to Peter Cook) this bloke had a bleeding planet named after him in 1999 [20468 Petercook].

Furthermore, I am ashamed to say that I needed Wikipedia to tell me that Mr. Cook gave the world “mayorwidge” as the clergyman in The Princess Bride (1987).

Ok, ok…enough about Cook.  [I’ve hardly said a word about Moore, but we must press on.]

This is generally a great episode (with the notable exception of Neil Sedaka).  I really don’t want to hate on this guy, but his repertoire…ugh. And his sartorial choices (burgundy velvet jacket).  The jacket would have been great if he didn’t have Meathead’s haircut (Rob Reiner…Archie Bunker).  [“And now I would like to impersonate the Archie Bunker.  (…)  Tank you veddy much.”]

To be fair, Sedaka had talent.  Singing voice?  Check.  Piano chops?  Check.  But the schmaltz gluing it all together is what made it unpalatable.  Not to mention, what was an MOR guy like this doing on such a counterculture show as SNL?  Look to the corner office, my friend…the corner office.

On the whole, a great episode.  Just bite the bullet when Neil starts crooning 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

City Lights [1931)

Just when you think you can’t go on anymore, and then something happens.

That is a miracle.

Little miracles.

Right place at the right time.

Preparation meets opportunity.

Luck.

If the horseshoe works…if the rabbit’s foot is effective, then you want some extra help going into the ring.

And if the luck is bad, you try to wipe off the effect as with an unwanted kiss.

It’s very hard saying anything enlightening right now.

I’ve trudged up a steep hill.

Today I hit a little plateau.

But it feels like I’m back at the bottom.

Because tomorrow is back to the salt mines.

Ah, but I am lucky.

Right?

I am not a pooper scooper in life’s parade…picking up after the animals.

At least, not literally.

But it all comes down to a rather simple concept.

We go back to where the flower girl was.

We went to jail for her.

And now is only absence.

Time has passed.

And so we wander the streets.

I am the laughing stock.

Easy to pick on.

Try to preserve some decorum.

Bring a laugh to the young people who have futures.

I will not tell you the rest.

Because it is coded in film language.

Why did Charlie act so nice?

Why did he do the right thing?

Why did he go above and beyond?

It was for love.

In real life we may fail, but we too are geniuses of love.

We have gone the extra miles.

And that lost love…as sad as Górecki’s ridiculously-dense counterpoint from his third Symphony.

Sorrowful songs.

Nothing can hurt that bad.

Driving.  Alone.  Empty.

It is all part of “life’s rich pageant,” as Peter Sellers so poignantly said.

It is the same with Chaplin, Sellers.  We laugh, but we are crying.

And so “perchance to dream”…REM sleep.

Tomorrow the birds will sing.

We must keep telling ourselves that until it’s true.

 

-PD