AUGUSTUS YOUNG        light verse, poetry and prose

  a regular webzine of new and unpublished work


Early Days at the Movies


Real Women in
the Movies

Just Kidding

The Seventh Art's Seventh Heaven

So What Happened




Choses Vues



Why I Hated Some Recent Movies

 Scarlett Something Swedish, the new Sandra Bullock, is revealed in the opening credits of Lost in Translation (2004) with a close up of her navel (Balthus copying Matisse, not a good idea. Imitate your master and you end up his slave). But her nubile cheeks twitch (minimalist acting from the gluteus maximus). Lost is a movie with a similar plot to American Beauty (1999), an older man meets an unhappy young thing. Though this time it’s Bill Murray on a business trip to Japan, a location that offers an opportunity for much mocking of the Japanese lisping ‘r’ when pronouncing ‘l’, and so it ends in a silly joke. ‘Have a nice fright’, says something Scarlet to Bill Murray, releasing him back to his wife. The moral ending tempers the titillation. I made the mistake of seeing it with Welsh and Alph (I rounded them at the last minute as a quorum of seven is needed to prevent the projectionist going home). The ending disappointed the Scot who wanted Bill Murray to have a new Caledonian life. Alph, the American, said it was necessary. The stability of American society depends on family values.

Lost won three golden globes at the Oscars, and Francis Coppola’s daughter, Sophia, an ex-actress for very good reasons, got the director’s award and now walks the cakewalk with celebrities at Spring Fashion shows in Paris, France, where Scarlet Something is to play Bessy, an American woman who befriended the exiled Napoleon, also an older man (fifty-one when murdered by Royal Navy doctors in St Helena). Sophia Coppola went on to direct a movie of the life of Marie Antoinette. She portrayed the petite pimbêche as a silly little miss, but something must have been lost between the coupe and the lip as it was canned in Cannes. Scarlet turned down the role as she’s giving up cakes in order to play Sophia Loren in a biopic.

My loathing of Lost stems from recent disappointments at the cinema. As boardrooms have taken over from auteurs, screens have grown bigger and actors smaller, as though auditioning for television spin-offs. You watch them through the wrong end of a telescope. Incredibly shrinking. And the special effects diminish their voices, so you have to strains your ears. In Cold Mountain (2004), deafening torrents of blood and guts crosscut with pastoral scenes back home before the war (girlish laughter, blackguard jibes, bull dancing - all in slow motion, like the field of corn in Elvira Madigan (1967) without the Mozart piano concerto, just the odd bucolic whoop). It’s enough to make The Guns of Navarone (1962) seem sophisticated.

Nicole Kidman has etiolated herself to play the young Penelope in a mid-nineteenth century backwater, knitting and nattering with the other war wives, but looks as though she’d be more at home joining up. She once pumped iron (To Die For, 1994), and will again, when movies come to their senses. Meanwhile, temporarily on loan to the world of representative people, Nicole Kidman folded herself under Tom Cruise’s wing and, when their marriage broke cloud, the dainty morsel was dropped at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where Cruise now flaunts his latest plump young things. His mother was a battered wife, and infant Tom ran away with her from Big Daddy Mapother. He took her name. They never looked back.  

I walked out of Cold Mountain when Ulysses (in flashback) comes to the rescue of the women in the church. A dove (no less) has got trapped in the sanctuary and flies about shedding feathers. Our hero daringly catches the bird and releases it into the clear blue sky. Fluff lingers in the air, tossed by the wind, a visual echo of the plastic bag dithering down the back alley at the end of American Beauty, also directed by Sam Mendes. Is this the best the boy wonder of the Donmar Warehouse can come up with, I thought. I saw Miss Julie there in the eighties and Donal McCann so convincingly appeared to kill the sparrow trapped in Strindberg’s kitchen that a woman’s voice in the audience cried out ‘shame’.

Breasts too have shrunk to virtual nipples. I long for bodicerippers like The Pride and the Passion (1957), with Sophia Loren bursting out and Cary Grant as Anthony Quinn bursting in. Bunkum unbounded, unrestrained by taste and distracting details. All eyes were fixed on the décolletage. Would it pop out on the horse ride? Unlikely as it may seem, the preppy, prissy mother’s boy Cary Grant fell for ‘the promise of pneumatic bliss’ in the ‘uncorseting’ of Sophia Loren. (Archibald Leach, aka Cary Grant, was an inversion of TS Eliot, an English American rather than an American Englishman). And when Loren sent him packing, low rumours had it he consoled himself in the arms of other men, likewise smitten, unrequited. She unmanned Anthony Quinn in Heller in Pink Tights (1960).

I see you, Sophia Loren, swagger your priceless cargo through the streets of Naples (Carosello Napolitano, 1954). Men and boys came out of the shadows to follow you, and the movie is no longer in black and white. It’s a carnival parade lead by a Bird of Paradise. Now thirty-five years on, it would be called harassment. You no longer sweep all before you, my poor weight-watching superannuated waif. It’s a crime against the flesh. Fellini’s nostalgia for mother’s breast (Roma, 1973) was a homage to yours.

Sophia, you had the pick of Clark Gable, Steve McQueen and Gregory Peck and, goodness gracious me, you ended up going ‘Boom boody boom boody boom boody boom’ with Peter Sellers (The Countess of Hong Kong, 1967). Popular choice, Marcello Mastroianni, fell asleep before you could finish your striptease (Marriage Italian Style, 1963). Another mother-lover made impotent by smotheration. So you put the dummy in the baby’s mouth.

You who were in everybody’s arms in dreams before the sixties went skinny, and what did you do but marry Charlie Bridges (alias Carlo Ponti), and now you are appearing on the Terry Wogan Show wearing Dame Edna spectacles and talking bambino English. It is as shamefully sad as Grace Kelly lowering herself on to the throne. The pulping of the pulpeuse

O Doctor I’m in trouble.

They Won’t Be Making a Movie About This

Bertrand Cantat, lead singer of Noir Désir, and soi-disant poète of Pop, apologises for killing Marie, the daughter of Jean-Louis Trintignant. I take it personally, having been Trintignant for several years in the seventies. He always looked embarrassed (And God Created Woman, 1956. Or was it Roger Vadim who made Camille Javel into Brigitte Bardot?) and sorry to be himself (Il Sorpasso, 1962), which made his priggish performance in Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1970) mine. The embarrassment may have had something to do with his name, the least memorable and pronounceable in any language I know (or don’t know).

‘Easy’, says Welsh. ‘ Trant-eeng-yong.’ (But you have to allow for a butt stuck to his desiccated lower lip.)

Trintignant was the second best assassin in movie history, The Conformist (1970). The best was Alain Delon in Le Samourai (1967) directed by Melville, who was a genius compared to the flashy Bertolucci, who aged badly (like snow that stays too long on the ground, precocious auteurs tend to end up producing slush). 

It should be said that Delon was also the best cinema boxer (Rocco and his Brothers, 1960). Eat your heart out Robert de Niro (Raging Bull, 1980) and spit it out Burt Lancaster (The Killers, 1954). Tough and tender as a street boy, everyone was his mother. And when the champion had him on the ropes, the audience wept. Delon, the Frank Sinatra of French cinema, and he didn’t need to sing.

In Court Bertrand Cantat thinks he is performing in a movie of his own making, the Trintignants as his supporting players. He is going for the minimal sentence, pleading regret, about as convincing as Fats Waller’s mugging of it, or Edith Piaf’s lack of it. He’s Ronald Reagan’s domestic rat in The Killers (1954), and wants to be exonerated. As though accepting an Oscar, he lists the thanks in advance for ‘forgiving him’, with special mention for Marie’s mother (who’s published a book wishing him canned for cat food). Only J-LTrintignant’s name is omitted. Difficult to pronounce, it’s true. But why tempt the second best assassin in movie history? 

French people tend to makes themselves tout petit when speaking of Marie Trintignant. They speak of her ‘bright little life’ extinguished by four blows to the head. Four is a significant number in France. Meursault in Camus’ L’Etranger was found guilty less for killing an Arab than for wasting four more bullets on a corpse. The word four in French means oven as in ‘bun in’ or concentration camps. But I don’t suppose that has any thing to do with French culture. Now Cantat is trying to talk himself out of the hole he dug Marie Trintignant into. The only act of remorse that would satisfy France at present would be by killing himself, or allowing himself to be lynched. But he is a sly lyricist, affectionately planting poisonous seeds in the jury’s mind. Marie was a mignon mercilessly teasing a man too thoughtful for his own good. When her airhead tauntings reached fever pitch, his mind, slowed down with the weight of the world (the environment, the plight of being a Pop idol), lost control of his body. His defence imputes she had ‘a delicate skull’. 

Cantat got his seven years (three off for good behaviour, some more for ill health and a transfer to an open prison, outside which his fans will regroup). He will be back. Chabrol, who made Marie Trintignant immortal as the unhappy housewife in Betty (1992), said, ‘She gave herself totally. Too much. I used to say to her ‘Marie, come back to earth’.’

Maybe I, as Trintignant, should send Delon a gun. He’s still around, unloved by the gods for going on and on while conspicuously going off. Maybe he has one last performance as an assassin under his slouch hat. 

Carry On Welsh

I say to Welsh, ‘mon frère, mon semblable, mon hypocrite lecteur’ (he pretends to read my work to keep me off his back). The bastard paints an evil flower, but Baudelaire annoys him. ‘Brother can you spare me a dime’, he quips. His bottom line is money, as mine is Les Fleurs du Mal. That’s what I think.

Welsh’s life is like his paintings. You think you get them. But look again, and something has changed that changes everything. He is a one-man trompe l’œil. Welsh sees himself as a character actor contracted to Rank in the late nineteen fifties, who plays bit parts so often that when he doesn’t appear in a Carry On film, a radio SOS would be broadcast. He left England in the late sixties and knows that Carry On Behind (1975) was the death of Charles Hawtrey, and television did for the rest. All that remained was pantomime, and Christmas only comes once a year. That’s why he’d prefer a part in the audience of La 7e Compagnie. ‘It’s the French Carry On’, he says, ‘and now on télé. So you don’t have to go out.’

Welsh would have made a perfect Tarzan. Spry as a monkey on his Charles Atlas regime (‘without the milk’), and more intelligent than Johnny Weissmuller. Though the roll-ups have slowed him down, he would have been his own stuntman, possibly inventing slow motion in the age of Keystone cops. Special effects would have been second nature to him. Tarzan’s cry, that is Johnny Weismuller’s shout played backwards on a dictaphone, could have been his after the sale of a twenty-year-old canvas (‘I always knew someone would want it’). A pity they went for the lounge lizard Lex Barker when Weissmuller went to fat. His last role before a stroke killed him was as a Las Vegas bingo caller (yodels played backwards in amplification). If the Tarzan role had gone to Welsh (‘four years of age at the time, no matter’), it would have kept him in paid work for thirty years at least. Despite Lex Barker, there were to be four more Tarzan movies than Carry Ons. Only political correctness killed the genre. Maureen O’Sullivan, the first Jane, crying out ‘You can’t shoot him – he’s white like us’, set the tone. A spin-off would have been primitive pastels by Welsh selling well in the jungle that is the art market.

When I tell Welsh this he nods with exaggerated approval, but adds, ‘I think once I was a television extra in a beach scene in Canet. But I missed the emission. I went to the pub to celebrate. Those were the days. My only regret was missing out on Shakespeare. I would have been a great gravedigger.’

‘Digging your own grave. I think I can arrange that’, I say. ‘Or Cassius in Julius Caesar. I always regret missing the school play.’