Wednesday, 29 August 2018

You're nothing but a railroad tramp. You're not fit to live among decent people!

"If you remember, McGyvers gave me 24 hours to close. I drew out my own money, paid off my boys... and I'm closed. You can't buy a drink or turn a card. I'm sitting here in my own house, minding my own business, playing my own piano. I don't think you can make a crime out of that."

"That's a lot of man you're carryin' in those boots, stranger! You know, there's something about a tall man makes people sit up and take notice."

"A man can lie, steal... and even kill. But as long as he hangs on to his pride, he's still a man. All a woman has to do is slip - once. And she's a "tramp!" Must be a great comfort to you to be a man."

"There's only two things in this world that a 'real man' needs: a cup of coffee and a good smoke."

"Never seen a woman who was more of a man. She thinks like one, acts like one, and sometimes makes me feel like I'm not."

Emma: "I'm going to kill you."
Vienna: "I know. If I don't kill you first."

Continuing a month of birthday celebrations, John-John's treat was for me, he and Madam Arcati to go to the British Film Institute on the South Bank yesterday (Tuesday) to see a rare big-screen showing for the Joan Crawford classic Johnny Guitar - and what a masterpiece of over-emoting, garishly-coloured, camp melodrama it is!

Arch-critic Roger Ebert described the film thus (and who are we to disagree?):
No money was lavished on the production. The action centres on a two-story saloon "outside town," but we never even see "town," except for a bank facade and interior set. So sparse are the settings that although the central character (Joan Crawford) plays the tavern owner and goes through a spectacular costume charge, we never see her boudoir - she only appears on a balcony above the main floor, having presumably emerged from the sacred inner temple.

A cheap Western from Republic Pictures, yes. And also one of the boldest and most stylized films of its time, quirky, political, twisted. Crawford bought the rights to the original novel, Nicholas Ray signed on to direct, and I wonder if they even openly spoke of the movie's buried themes. One is certainly bisexualism; Crawford's tavern-owner Vienna is, it is claimed, in love with "Johnny Guitar" (Sterling Hayden), but has not seen him in five years. She effortlessly turns tough hombres into girly-men, and her bartender observes to Johnny, "I never met a woman who was more man."

Her arch-enemy Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) is allegedly in love with "The Dancin' Kid" (Scott Brady) and is jealous because he is allegedly in love with Vienna ("I like you, but not that much," Vienna tells him). But there is hardly a moment when Emma can tear her eyes away from Vienna to glance at the Kid. All of the sexual energy is between the two women, no matter what they say about the men. Crawford wanted Claire Trevor for the role, but the studio, perhaps having studied the script carefully, insisted on McCambridge, who was not a lesbian but played one, as they say, in the movies.

That casting led to more Crawford bitch legends, as on the day when she threw McCambridge's costume in the middle of a highway. The chemistry of loathing is palpable, as it was between Crawford and Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Both women wear fetishistic black leather, silk and denim costumes that would have been familiar enough to students of 1954 pornography: The tightly corseted waists, the high boots, the long shirts, the tight bodices, the lash of lipstick; give us Meg Myles in Satan in High Heels.

McCambridge, said to be a "cattle baron" (not baroness), dominates her posse of cowboys and lackeys, standing before them in a wide, challenging stance. She's shorter than they are, but is always strutting in the front while they almost cower. Crawford often appears from above on her balcony, worshipped by the camera in low-angle, adored by her loyal employees, ordering Sam, her croupier, "Spin the wheel. I like the way it sounds."

Unkindly, but understandably, some of our audience at the BFI sniggered at the more preposterous moments. As another critic observed:
Just watching the sparring between Crawford and McCambridge is enough to send you over the moon. As for the movie, it’s an absurdist’s dream — in one scene in which guns are drawn and tensions are high, the strapping Hayden enters the bar with a delicate tea cup in his hand. You watch the scene thinking, “Oh, no he didn’t.” But he did.
Everyone in this film is larger-than-life - apart from the cowering "menfolk" of the mysteriously otherwise invisible town. Miss Crawford gives the performance of her life, acting for all the world as if she were in a top-billing George Cukor or Carol Reed masterpiece rather than a cheap Western; Miss McCambridge practically chews the scenery as she quivers and grimaces, spitting her venomous lines with relish; Mr Hayden barely suppresses a laugh as he assumes the "romantic cowboy hero" role normally reserved for John Wayne or Randolph Scott; and Ernest Borgnine is, well, Ernest Borgnine, really.

We tittered ourselves at the plastic rocks, the wonky sets, the "homing horse" that leads the posse to the "magic" waterfall behind which the gang's hideout is located, the name "Johnny Logan" [famously shared by the unashamedly MOR two-time winner of Eurovision], the shonky acting of the minor villains, the complete bewilderment of the real-life redneck Ward Bond at being cast as an emasculated brute in what was obviously a carefully-crafted cinematic dig at his beloved McCarthyites and their "witch-hunts", and, of course, the least convincing band of "outlaws" in Western movie history - a "Dancin' Kid", a Borgnine, a sickly and bookish Royal Dano, and... a character called "Turkey" with the face of Debbie Reynolds?!

There was plenty to titter at, to be sure. But, absurdist or not, we loved every single moment of it!

Especially the piano scene:

...and, of course, the sublime theme tune by Peggy Lee [the "best" version of which, incidentally, we heard performed - sorry, ululated - by the house band at the Etap Hotel in Luxor in Egypt; but that's another story!]:

Play the guitar, play it again, my Johnny
Maybe you're cold but you're so warm inside
I was always a fool for my Johnny
For the one they call Johnny Guitar
Play it again, Johnny Guitar

What if you go, what if you stay, I love you
But if you're cruel, you can be kind, I know
There was never a man like my Johnny
Like the one they call Johnny Guitar

There was never a man like my Johnny
Like the one they call Johnny Guitar
Play it again, Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar on IMDB

Some crazed fans inspired geniuses even created a musical based on the film. I don't think it got very far. Shame. Such is camp, I suppose...

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Blame Robert Helpmann

"I got a letter from the Sadler's Wells Ballet School saying they found me temperamentally and physically unsuited to a career as a dancer. I suppose that knocked me back for a couple of days, but then I went to see The Red Shoes at the cinema and I was up on my toes again. Blame Robert Helpmann."
Farewell to one of the most influential people in British popular culture, Lindsay Kemp - the man who mentored David Bowie and taught Kate Bush to dance, studied art with David Hockney and mime with Marcel Marceau, appeared in The Wicker Man, Sebastiane and Velvet Goldmine, collaborated extensively with Spanish composer Carlos Miranda, lent his support to the ongoing campaigns against the "gentrification" of Soho, and co-ordinated productions of various operas across Italy (his adopted homeland, where he died).

A remarkable man. As another longtime collaborator David Haughton says: "He was one of a kind. There won't be another like him."

RIP Lindsay Kemp (3rd May 1938 – 24th August 2018)

Read my previous tribute to the great man, and his collaboration with Mr Bowie.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Beauty, what a weapon!

"Elegance does not consist in putting on a new dress."

"Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions."

"A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future."

"How many cares one loses when one decides not to be 'something' but to be 'someone'."

"Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!"

"Fashion is made to become unfashionable."

Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel (19th August 1883 – 10th January 1971)

Friday, 17 August 2018

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual...

 today's birthday girl, Our Patron Saint of Innuendo Miss Mae West!

Not bad for a 125-year-old.

"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

Mary Jane "Mae" West (17th August 1893 – 22nd November 1980)

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I sometimes think I was born to live up to my name

"When you're 25, it's a little bit easier to be daring, especially if you are a pop star, because eccentric behaviour is expected from you."

"I always thought I should be treated like a star."

"I know I'm not the greatest singer or dancer, but that doesn't interest me. I'm interested in being provocative and pushing people's buttons."

"If I was a girl again, I would like to be like my fans, I would like to be like Madonna."

"My physical transformations - like changing my hair - are usually a reflection of what's inspiring me at the moment."

"When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it."

"I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art."

"If I can't be daring in my work or the way I live my life, then I don't really see the point of being on this planet."

"I think in the end, when you're famous, people like to narrow you down to a few personality traits. I think I've just become this ambitious, say-whatever's-on-her-mind, intimidating person. And that's part of my personality, but it's certainly not anywhere near the whole thing."

"There are moments when I can't believe I'm as old as I am. But I feel better physically than I did 10 years ago. I don't think, Oh God, I'm missing something."

"I sometimes think I was born to live up to my name. How could I be anything else but what I am having been named Madonna? I would either have ended up a nun or this."

"I've never really lived a conventional life, so I think it's quite foolish for me or anyone else to start thinking that I am going to start making conventional choices."

The Queen of Fuckin' Everything, Madonna is 60 years old today.


Madonna Louise Ciccone (born 16th August 1958)