October 26, 2020

1975-03-27 – The Guardian

1975 03 27 The_Guardian_Thu__Mar_27__1975_

Gene 1V1ider and Peter '50er In
Young lTrankenstein

Ken
Russell’s

rock

films reviewed by
DEREK MALCOLM ‘

IT IS AT least arguable that Tommy
(Leicester Square Theatre, AA) was
not only the first but the best rock
opera yet written. Now we have 1t,

in blasting Qumtaphomc Sound, flung
at us from the screen by the Amazing
Ken Russell. Take your 1231- -plugs and
possmlv a sedatwe 9. put on your dark
glasses. but go. Some of it is quite
extraordinary. a battering but exact
s1ntl1e51s of sound and images the like
of whu'h onl1' Russell of contemporarv
filmmakers, could achieve. Even if
‘ou th1nk he‘s the most irritating
director in the world. you have to
allow that to h1m.Byhis own 11 ghts.
he could scarcely have done better.

Tommy for the benefit of those
who haven’t yet seen or heard it, 15
a parable about a boy 11hu grows up
deaf,d11mb and blind after a traumahe
experience in his 1'.outh somehow
survives a series of miracle cures.
becomes mnball champion of the world
and finally freed of his disabilities,
turns 11110 the Superstar Messiah.

All U115 15 built round music that.
to some extent, defuses it of porten-
tnusness since it is culled from the
experience of a group (The Who) that
has been one of the most musical
around even when Pete ’l‘ownshend was
smashing 11111 guitars. What Russell has
done is to marry their work to his
style w1th an abandon that at least

gives 1t freshness even if it often
diverts the total experience along
d1ffe1'cnt channels Certainly he has
1nlearised but a rock opera without

that qualit_1 would seem a contradictmn
in terms and not much to do With the
pop scene from 11inch 1t11as generated.

Some sections of the film. such as the
superb Pinball Wi7ard sequence with
a mammoth-booted Elton John the
Acid Queen scene with the magnificent
Tina Turner and two numbers with

Paul Nicholas and Keith Moon as
Tommv‘s tormenting baby-SItters, are
so perfectly matched to the songs that
the 1magination boggles at Russell's
audaeitv and the wav he can hung the
1mpossible ofi' bv believing in it so
utterly

At other points it will be all too
much for those who find Russell hard
to take and a combination of him and
The Who even harde1.Even so. there
are some stunning. and stunningly
energetw performances to admire
which match step for step what Russell
is trxing for on the screen. Roger
Daltrey’s innocent blank- eyed Tommy
Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed as his
hapless prole parents. and Jack Nichol-
son in an all too brief cameo role as
a spurious specxalist give everything
they have and sometimes more than
we thought thev had. to the general
cause.

And the sight: of leering Reed.
stridlng around Russell’s approxima-
t1on of a fifties Butlins in Teddy Bov
gear or of Ann—Margret having a
nervous breakdowu in a torrent of
baked beans W11] live with me for a
good deal longer than the film will
run. ,Which is probably a very long
time. since Russell gmng all out in the
pop field is an experienc'e that makes
the recvnt spate of d1saster films seem
like pigmv pmm'icks on the sub-
consc1011s.’1‘he experience. like it or
not is quite something

“Pardon me. bov . . . is this the
Transylvania statIon. " " says Gene
Wilders Fredeiick Ihankenstein on
the way to his ancestral castle 111 Niel
Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (ABC
Shaftesbury Avenue and Scene AA).
It's not the only funny moment. There' s
the scene, for instance when Peter
Boy le's monster confronts Gene Hack-
man’s Blindman who. in the effort to
be hospitable as well as charitable.
gives him a cigar and lights his thumb
pours scalding soup down h1s trousers
and drops the much- needed proferred
diink on the floor.

Even so. the film 15 a distinct
disa ppointment after Blazmg Saddles
and I am thoroughly ashamed to report
that I think :t's the fault of
the critics. We successfully begged
Brooks to orgamSe his anarchic stvle
so that there was a breathing space
between- laughs and we all knew where
we were gomg If some fool had said
that to the Marx Brothers. what would
have happened to Duck Soup '2

What has happened now seems
alarmingly obkus in hindsight. We‘ ve
asked him to knock half the life out
of ms admittedly uneven talent w1th
the resullt that a yself-conscious str1v1ng
after efi'ect has taken its place. The
parody, carefullv filmed in black and
white for verisimilitude. at times
becomes leaden enough for the watcher
to muess what‘ 5 coming next. In Blazing
Saddles and The Producers you never.
eger knew which was at least half the
L- arm.

8111], there is enough genuine inspira-
tlon atound to keep most people happy
and,w1th all its disadvantages. the
film can lay fair claim to being the
funniest spoof in town. Gene Wilder.
Boyle Hackman Madchne Kahn, Cloris
Leachman and Marty Feldman are a
team second to none 1n this area. and
Gerald Hirschfeld’s photography pays
some nicely judged tributes to James
Whale and others. It's a film that looks

good all through and sometimes sounds
splendid. The trouble is that, in tidying
up his talent, Brooks has swept some
of it ever so neatly under the carpet.

ARTS: GUARDIAN 2,

“GIVE my regards to oti-Broadway."
a fqiend murmured shortly before I
left for New York'; and many of the
city's theatrical dynamics come from
the numerous alternatlve downtown
playhouses. Tickets ofi-Broadway may.
be expensive (111) to eight dollars) and

Joe Papp told me that even his famous
Public l‘heatcr 111 Lafavette Street
where Hair first sprouted, is as depen-
dent on good notices as most B road“ 111'
houses. Yet the fact remains that
alternative New Yo1k theatre otters
a range and quantity 1 have met in
no other elty: accozding to Village
V 01Le hstmgs. there are some 20 shows
playing 05 Broadway and another 80
in the olT- ofl' Bioadway attics, cafes,
and converted synagogues. It makes
London’ 5 claim to he the world' s thea-
trical capital look a little shaky

Inevitably one's first port of call is
the Public Theater. 3 ramhhng con-
verted'lihrary on the lower East Side
that tcoms With auditoria am! that has
been turned by M1- Papp into a home
of new American drama.Pa|1p's pmlo-
sophv is based on a long term commit-
ment to a group of writers such as
Michael W eller David Babe, and
Robert Montgomery: and he told me
that he 11111 otter to put on a flawed
play by a writer he believes in Simply
to provide the dramatist with extra
encouraoement. I 11as reminded of
everything I had seen and read about
the Royal Court in the days of George
Devine: young 11' riters seem to regard
the place as a home from home. and
the pinformal atmosphere suggests
people take precedence o1er getting
the best bounce out of the buck

I also saw one outstanding play
there. Fishmg, 11.1: Michael Weller.
(hrected by our own Peter ‘(11ll.
Weller‘s Cancer was staged at the
Court a few years back, and Fishing
IS a follow-up so far as it deals with
the Vietnam generation attempting to
construct a new 11£e for themselves
up in the Pacific North-west After
the raucous hysteria of so much Broad-
wav w.riting it is refreshing to find
a dramatist with total respect for his
characters: and 11n11'11ne who still tends
to thmk of American actors as hairy.
l'illIllihllliS.’ imitationRrandos would
have been astonished by the company's
relaxed. d1sc1plined skill. Since London
seems to think new American drama
begins and end: 11'1th Sam Shepherd.
I suggest Mr Gill be invited to revive
the plav at the Theatre Upstairs as
soon as possible.

The play is set in a log cabin on
the Pamfic Coast 111 1974 Bill and
Shelly have set up house there With
the 1dea of buying a boat and earning
a 111m: from salmon fishing Previous

pipe dreams of a farm and a Brarilian.

pot plantation have withered and now
t-he1 latk tho 81.500 to buy the boat
they want.Robl1ie. a self-destructive
chum. lives With them: and two of

Scene
Kid Champion at
York's Public Tl

MICHAEL'
BILLINCTOP
who today v
the IPC awa
Critic of the
Year, reports
from New Y
on the state
off-Broadway
theatre : ‘ it
makes Londo
claim to be
the world’s
theatrical cap
look a little
shaky’

' The

his friends. a cool youi
h1s w.1fe drop by
Evermne gets stoned
Robbie. who has a rich
coughs up the money
boat; and m the em
makes a pos1t1ve com:
alive and struggling
there may yet be ho:
generation. marooned
values and new freedo

Mr Weller uses his
complex. crincal comp
not sentunentahse the
s1sm of the drunk. Yet
the real affection and
that ex1sts amongst th
group. Robbie has a y
friend's Wife, hut neit]
anything about 1t for f
wounds on other peoi:
produwction With its
and sudden small gesl
ship. matches the Che
of the writmg. and 1111
h’ Guv Boyd as the 1
Tom Clee Jones as the 1
man. and Raymond
joeular mortician. sugg
lavsky tradition is aliv

ONE MAN’S WEEK on television

by Nancy Banks- Smith

TO BE hit in the small of the back by
the 1045 from Paddington while pick-
1ng primroses on the track 15 a very
Spike Milligan sort of thing to happen.
It was, therefore, perfectly appropriate
that as Steve Roberts’ film on Milligan
went out the BBC should fire 111m.

It was not or course anything to
do w1th the quality of the film Cuttmg
costs and camera the BBC ls just
not making the films nowadays—this
one is a 1'e11r old——and does not need
the directors. You can live milliout this
sort of film as you can Without your
sense of taste or smell and you might.
thereby. 111155 something nasty 01' you
might 111158 something1 niamrellous. One
Man‘s Weed: (BBC-2), the'first of a
new series. was excellent in parts
which 15 damnation in an egg but
only patchmess in a programme.
Milligan’s week was given some sort
of surrealist coherence by purporting
to take place on a tram journey to
Normch Atrip ind15tingu1shable in
rlchness of incident from the Onent
Express.

It's most magic moment was a phone
call from M1lligan’s mother who. for
reasons which no doubt seem adequate,

a ppears to live in Australia. Millifian:
“Hullo Mum. .don't worry about me

shooting that bloke...1 also told the

police 1111 giving 11115
Brighton tru°nk murder
1vinter...Mum. I don'
about the weather. M
go now, I can t afi‘ord tl
for Cimst s sake let’s 1,.
yes Mum. .1es Mum
yes, Mum.. .goodbye
know why one should t
a sort of down under 1
why have you been sh
Give yourself up, son."
I also don’t know 1
practice of throwmg p
at the TV set. It does t
harm and 1s a great
spint. Miiligan’s imagm
that. (‘ulanL-es off 31
rochochets around his
bagpipers on the TV,
of some doomy Joli
"MacColditz “ he cries
bagpmes. Get the pi
“Have you seen'the
asks. “I'm waiting till
statue.“ he said, ”a sta
the dinner of the pi:
besides some London rai
mg. plays them like a
It 15 a game of son
skull. It can’t be comfi
talen 15 anarchic. Marx
he needs two brothers.
and beat1fic. one with a ;
Oh. but he dld have.

BALLET RAMBERT at Leeds Playhouse

by ‘Merete Bates

THE NIGHT DANCES is possibly
the most powerful. certainly the most
sombre and moving of Ballet Ram-
bert’s recent premieres at the Leeds
Playhouse. Joseph Scoglio’s choreo-
graphy fuses intensity with unity and
moves in those primal, subconscious
regions, deeper than dramatic inc1-
dent, where dance is at its most ex-
presswe. Integral to the choreography,
is Bob Downes’s musxc, Spironls,
dommated by a steady. relentless
throbbing like the .-octu1-.l engines
of a great city. Gradually 1t nuinbs as

it pacifies the senses until,w1th a
quiver into silence followed by the
shudder of a gong and moan of trom-,
bone, the human dreamlife_1s com~
pelled into motion.

Slowly the master of spirit. ominous
in black peak of hair and uncanny
white costume, emer gas from the dark
1i quid shadow in the middle of the
stage. Harshly, superblv danced by
Bob Smith, he controls the other
dancers awakening them, watching as

they slowly roll, rise.
eether and apart. And
chimes three, forcm
w1lder,deeper eonvuls
shift and strengthenh
that carries the balle
ecstatic climax. And thi
shudder and renewal
hing. the dancers file 0
breaks.

In contrast. Lindsai
Parades Gone By, br1
here yesterday, offers
of moods —— macabre
Wistt‘ul and lascivmus.
hilarious ~— that are so
into consistency throuz
irony. The irony is an.
film director. driven
earlier screened fant
hovers among the prop
studio, he rcsnrrects th
stars —— to him purpl
with passion —- to u
spoons upon a lip kiss,
blonde lecheg, from c
fully funny. Lindsay
dichotomies are poi;
mated by Natasha Kor

SCOTTISH OPERA at Liverpool Royal C1

by Gerald Larner

THERE WAS another good audience
for Scottish Opera at the Royal Court
last nirrht. With La Boheme to see
and with Sir Charles Groves conduct-
ing. it would have been very
surpiising if the LiverpOol audience
had stayed away. If there were any
regrets. on technical grounds, when
the curtain—the most temperamental
in British show business—refused to
go more than half way up on the last

act there should not have been many
on oneratie grounds.

part in Catherine Wi
Musetta. In fact, the c
throughout, from Ron
mature and sympathet
Norman White’s nitel
character study of Al
cohere happilyy in Pet
sensational but natu’r
and Peter Rice’s equal]
but no less interesting

Sir Charles Groves’s
rather more businesslik
when the production 1
Edinbuvg h a few montl
not all gain because

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