Film Writing Nov. 2016 – April 2017

It’s been awhile. Work obligations, as well as personal projects and other responsibilities, have taken precedence over updating my blogs. Of course, you can always find me on my Tumblr as well as Twitter & Facebook. Before I let another month get away, I thought I’d finally share an update to the film writing I’ve done for the last 6 months.

I’ve broken topics up into 4 categories (Horror Cinema, British Cinema, Japanese Cinema and Other) since I tend to focus on 3 subjects more than any others. Hopefully, it will make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for. As always, I write about film every week for FilmStruck’s Streamline blog and you can find my latest updates here: http://streamline.filmstruck.com/author/cinebeats/

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Horror Cinema:
Devil’ Advocate: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Venomous Snakes & Poison Ants: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
A Double Dose of Boris Karloff
The Devil Made me Do It: La Main Du Diablo (1943)
An Actor’s Revenge: Theatre of Blood (1973)

LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, THE (1962)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

British Cinema:
Angry Cinema: The British New Wave
Losey Let Loose: The Criminal (1960)
Margaret Lockwood is The Wicked Lady (1945)
Equal Shares For All: The League of Gentlemen (1960)

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Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Japanese Cinema:
– Screen Sorcery: Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
Nippon Noir: Celebrate #noirvember with FilmStruck
Everyone’s Gone Crazy: Violent Cop (1989)
Tokyo Gone Gagaga: Otaku (1994) The film is actually an international production directed by French filmmaker Chris Marker but the focus is on Japan

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Red Desert (1964)

Other:
Surveying the Red Desert (1964)
My Melancholy Valentine: Dans Paris (2006)
There Are No Safe Spaces: An Arturo Ripstein Double Feature
Adventure in Istanbul: Topkapi (1964)
Joan Bennett: Fritz Lang’s Muse
Stranger Than Fiction: The Baron of Arizona (1949)
Creative Collaboration: Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988)
Adolescent Adventure: The World of Henry Orient (1964)
The Search for Common Ground: A Separation (2011)
Strokes of Genius: Moulin Rouge (1952)
The Future is Now: Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)

Celebrating Gay Pride

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As a film journalist I have often tried to focus my attention on underappreciated films, actors and directors. Unsurprisingly, this has led me to write about a number of gay/LGBT films as well as gay/LGBT filmmakers and actors. So in celebration of Gay Pride weekend and the Supreme Court decision that now makes gay-marriage a constitutional right (as it always should have been) I decided to collect some of the film writing I’ve done under the banner of “Gay Interest” to share in one post.

Enjoy!
James Fox – Subverting Sexual Identity & Social Class in British Cinema (2007)
At Home With Dirk Bogarde (2007)
Massimo Dallamano’s Dorian Gray (2007)
Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007) (2007)
Introducing Jason King (2007)
The decadent world of the Black Lizard (2008)
David Bowie is The Image (1967) (2008)
A few thoughts about Anthony Perkins (2008)
10 Questions with Shane Briant (2009)
Modern Mondays: Love Songs (2007) (2009)
Spend Your Day With Dirk Bogarde (2009)
The Fool Killer (1965) (2009)
Modern Mondays: Gus Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy” 2002-2005 (2009)
Old Rubber Lips (2010)
Seduced by Pierre Clementi (2011)
Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) (2011)
In Search of Sascha Brastoff (2011)
Velvet Goldmine: Celluloid Pictures of Living (2011)
Reinventing Lolita (2011)
Remember My Name (1976) (2011)
The House That Screamed… “Murder!” (2011)
Derek Jarman: An Appreciation (2011)
Girls Will Be Boys (2012)
“A film is a petrified fountain of thought.” – Jean Cocteau (2012)
Dirk Bogarde – The Reluctant International Man of Mystery (2012)
Summer Reading – including a brief look at Tab Hunter’s autobiography (2012)
Telefilm Time Machine: That Certain Summer (1972) (2013)
In the Trenches with James Whale (2013)
Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? (2013)
Telefilm Time Machine – Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) (2013)

Embracing Ambiguity: Figures In A Landscape (1970)

I’ve had Joseph Losey on my mind a lot lately and this week I decided to revisit one of my favorite Losey films, the extraordinary FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970) starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell. From my latest post at the Movie Morlocks:

[Warning! Spoilers on the road ahead.]

“The first thing that you see in Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970) is the big black helicopter. It lingers in the sky like a giant buzzing insect or an angry bird of prey. For the next two hours it will pursue the film’s two protagonists (Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell) in a relentless game of cat and mouse over various terrains of uncompromising beauty. You will never find out who is pursuing them. You will not discover what they are running from. You will never know when these events took place or where. And last but not least, you will never know why they happen. If clarity, easy answers and conventional storytelling techniques are something you demand from cinema you’ll probably find FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE a frustrating viewing experience. But if you relish unexpected pleasures and are willing to embrace ambiguity the film might capture your imagination as forcefully as it does mine.”

You can read my entire post if you follow the link below:
Embracing Ambiguity: Figures In A Landscape (1970) @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog

Happy Birthday Joseph Losey!

Losey & Bogarde
Two of my favorite people: Director Joseph Losey & actor Dirk Bogarde

Today marks what would have been Joseph Losey’s 102 birthday. Unfortunately very few of us live that long and Losey died in 1984 at age 75. Lately critics around the world seem to be rediscovering his work and rethinking their opinion of the director’s impressive legacy. Joseph Losey is gaining new fans every day and it’s wonderful to see this sudden resurgence of interest in his films. As a lifelong Losey fan this makes me extremely happy! I’ve enjoyed writing about Losey’s work here at Cinebeats as well as contributing to Harkit Records release of John Barry’s soundtrack for Boom! which happens to be one of my favorite Losey films. I hope to write more about his work in the future but if you would like to read my previous posts about the director you can find them here:
Joseph Losey @ Cinebeats

Favorite 2010 DVDs

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Oliver Reed and friends in Joseph Losey’s These Are the Damned (1963)
Part of Hammer’s Icons of Suspense DVD collection

Last year I didn’t have time to compile a lengthy list of my favorite DVDs but this year I decided to post a small selection of favorites over at the Movie Morlocks. Most of the films on my list were originally made in the ’60s or ’70s because they’re my favorite film decades but this year I branched out a bit and included some older films as well. The list is much smaller than my usual list but I hope my regular readers will find it interesting. Many of the films I mentioned haven’t been available on DVD before and some were never even released in the US. Creating a list like this gives me the opportunity to shine a light on these movies and hopefully encourage a few people to seek them out.
Some Favorite DVD Releases of 2010 @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

Recommended Links:
Favorite 2008 DVDs
Favorite 2007 DVDs
Favorite 2006 DVDs

Dance With The Devil

The Mephisto Waltz
Barbara Parkins in The Mephisto Waltz (1971)

Apologies for the lack of updates but as usual, life keeps getting in the way of my blogging plans. I promise to try and post something else here in the next few days but in meantime you can find my latest Bewitching Movies update over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog. In my latest post I discuss the 1971 occult film The Mephisto Waltz, which I originally saw on TV sometime in the late ’70s when I was about 12-years-old. It scared me silly then and I still think the film has a lot to offer horror fans. It features standout performance from two actresses I like a hell of a lot, the beautiful Jacqueline Bissett and Barbara Parkins, as well as a great Jerry Goldsmith score and some wonderfully creepy sequences that would have made Joseph Losey proud. Some might argue that Bissett and Perkins are Satanists who don’t exactly play witches in The Mephisto Waltz but they both practice black magic. Part of the movie’s appeal is its vague representation of religion and magic. So pull up a chair and get that cauldron boiling. It’s time to dance The Mephisto Waltz at the Movie Morlocks.

I also put together a collection of images from the film that you can find in my Mephisto Waltz Flickr Gallery.

New John Dankworth Compilation

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Laurence Harvey, Julie Christie & Dirk Bogarde in Darling (1965)

During the recent Dirk Bogarde movie marathon on TCM I ended up watching John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965) again which stars Dirk Bogarde along with the wonderful Julie Christie and jaw-droppingly gorgeous Laurence Harvey. I’ve seen the film many times before but I love all three of the film’s stars so I never get tired of watching it. Besides the actors and Schlesinger’s impressive direction, another reason that I find Darling incredibly watchable is the film’s great score by British composer John (aka Johnny) Dankworth. Dankworth was an amazing talent and he’s responsible for composing the soundtracks for some of my favorite British films of the ’60s. He also created music for terrific television shows like the original Avengers.

After watching Darling again I decided to try and hunt down a copy of the film’s soundtrack online. Unfortunately I had no luck, but I did discover that a new John Dankworth compliation CD has just been released called Let’s Slip Away – Film and TV 1960-1973.

Let’s Slip Away is the first CD compilation of John Danworth’s scores so if you’re a fan of his music you’ll definitely want to get yourself a copy. This impressive 2 CD set from Eclipse in the UK features over 40 music tracks and includes theme music from Darling as well as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz; 1960), The Servant (Joseph Losey; 1963), Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (Karel Reisz; 1966), Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey; 1966) and Accident (Jospeh Losey; 1967). The collection also includes extensive notes by Workers Playtime DJ Martin Green.

The official Eclipse site calls Let’s Slip Away “Beautifully cool jazz-pop from the days before Johnny started calling himself John and getting all serious on your ass.”

Sounds good to me!

The CD collection was released earlier this month and you can currently find new copies at Amazon selling for about $18.75, but there seems to be a glaring error on the website that also lists the CD for $170. Ignore that ridiculous price! If you can’t get new copies of the CD at Amazon I highly recommend picking up a copy at my favorite online soundtrack shop Movie Grooves.

My Top 20 Favorite Films of 1968

At the Britannica blog Raymond Benson has finished listing off his Top 10 Favorite Films of 1968 so if you’re interested in the final results stop by and give them a look. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions how much I dislike making lists of favorite films myself since they’re limited by what I’ve seen and are subject to change at anytime. Roger Ebert recently asked his blog readers to “. . . agree that all lists of movies are nonsense.” I agreed with him wholeheartedly at the time, but in the process of watching Raymond Benson share his list favorite films from 1968 I naturally began thinking of my own favorite films released the same year.

Compiling a list of favorite films restricted by their release date without implying that they’re “the best” (whatever that means) started to seem like a fun exercise. And while reading the complaints and reservations about Raymond Benson’s own selections I even suggested that it would be interesting if all the participants of the Britannica blog “round-table” supplied their own list of Top 10 Favorite Films for 1968 so we could compare them. I figured that if we were going to scrutinize Raymond Benson’s selections we might as well scrutinize each other. I also thought that it would probably enrich the discussion. No one else seemed willing or able to share a list of there own picks, but for the past two weeks I’ve been quietly compiling a list of my own favorite films from 1968.

I wasn’t planing on sharing my own list with anyone, but over the weekend I listened to an interesting discussion between Greencine’s David Hudson, Film Comment‘s Gavin Smith and film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about the current state of film criticism that got me contemplating my list again. During the discussion Jonathan Rosenbaum smartly pointed out that, “People love lists now because they need to. There’s too much to navigate through.” In my own experience I’ve found this to be very true. Since I started blogging my “Favorite DVDs of the year” lists for 2006 and 2007 have become some of my most popular posts and they’ve generated some lively discussions and lots of email. I think other people appreciate them because they offer a brief look at some films I’ve enjoyed and recommend. And in the words of Jonathan Rosenbaum, the lists are easy to navigate through.

So without further explanation, here’s a list of some of my own favorite films from 1968. I couldn’t manage to narrow all my choices down to a mere Top 10 so I just decided to share my Top 20 list instead. I purposefully left off documentaries so you won’t find any listed and four of the films on my list were also on Raymond Benson’s list. The numerical order doesn’t mean much and naturally my list is subject to change at anytime since I’m continually being exposed to new movies. It also should be noted that after looking at various print and online sources I’ve come across different release dates for some films. As far as I know, the following 20 films were originally released in 1968.

My TOP 20 FAVORITE FILMS OF 1968

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1. If…. (Lindsay Anderson; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about If…. can be found HERE and HERE.

Black Lizard (1968)
2. Black Lizard aka Kurotokage (Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Black Lizard can be found HERE.
I’m currently working on a much longer article about the film and its star that I hope to share here soon.

Spirits of the Dead (1968)
3. Spirits of the Dead aka Histoires Extraordinaires
(Federico Fellini, Louis Malle & Roger Vadim; 1968)

Some of my thought about Spirits of the Dead can be found HERE.

Teorema (1968)
4. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Teorema can be found HERE.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick; 1968)

Diabolik (1968)
6. Diabolik aka Danger: Diabolik! (Mario Bava; 1968)
Some of my brief thoughts about Diabolik can be found HERE.

Succubus (1968)
7. Succubus aka Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (Jesus Franco; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Succubus can be found HERE.

greatsilenceposter
8. The Great Silence aka Il Grande silenzio (Sergio Corbucci; 1968)
Some of my thought about The Great Silence can be found HERE and HERE.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
9. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski; 1968)

Petulia (1968)
10. Petulia (Richard Lester; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Petulia can be found HERE.

blackmailmylifeposter
11. Blackmail Is My Life aka Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei ( Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Blackmail Is My Life can be found HERE

Boom (1968)
12. Boom! (Joesph Losey; 1968)
My lengthy look at Boom! can be found HERE.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
13. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero; 1968)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
14. The Thomas Crown Affair (Norman Jewison; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about The Thomas Crown Affair can be found HERE.

Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
15. Girl on a Motorcycle aka Naked Under Leather (Jack Cardiff; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Alain Delon and Girl on a Motorcycle can be found HERE.

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16. Once Upon a Time in the West aka C’era una volta il West
(Sergio Leone; 1968)

Some of my thoughts about Once Upon a Time in the West can be found HERE.


17. Death Laid an Egg aka La Morte ha fatto l’uovo (Giulio Questi; 1968)
I briefly mentioned my fondness for Death Laid an Egg HERE.

The Devil Rides Out (1968)
18. The Devil Rides Out aka The Devil’s Bride (Terence Fisher; 1968)

thepartyp
19. The Party (Blake Edwards; 1968)

Barbarella (1968)
20. Barbarella (Roger Vadim; 1968)

Honorable mention goes to the wonderful Yokai Monster films that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

John Barry’s BOOM! Soundtrack


Cover art for the new Boom! soundtrack release
Apologies for the lack of updates. I’ve been extremely busy lately and I expect to be busy all summer long but hopefully I’ll find some free time to update a bit more in the coming weeks.

In the meantime I wanted to let fans of the Oscar winning British composer John Barry (the James Bond films, Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Knack …and How to Get It, The Ipcress File, Born Free, The Quiller Memorandum, Petulia, Walkabout, etc.) know that Harkit Records in the UK has just released his fascinating and experimental soundtrack from the film Boom! (1968) on CD for the first time. I’m also thrilled to have been involved with the project. Harkit Records contacted me and asked if they could publish part of my essay about the film as part of the CD liner notes and I happily agreed.

You can currently purchase John Barry’s Boom! soundtrack at Amazon or at online music shops like Movie Grooves in the UK. At the Movie Grooves site you can also listen to sample tracks from the score.

If you appreciate the impressive music John Barry recorded for films in the ’60s as much as I do you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of his soundtrack for Boom! As I mentioned above, the score has never been made available on CD before and this is a great opportunity to hear some rare and wonderful music by one of Britain’s best composers.


Composer John Barry

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968)

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) is one of the most famously criticized and misunderstood films from the late sixties. Its original $3.9 million dollar budget ballooned into 10 million by the time shooting stopped and the money was mainly used to pay the million dollar salaries of the film’s two stars (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and dress Elizabeth Taylor in her amazing Tiziani costumes (many designed by Karl Lagerfeld) and Bulgari jewelery, build a fabulous set and keep the Bloody Marys’ and champagne flowing from dawn to dusk. Critics by and large despised Boom! and many viewers walked out of the theater before the film had ended utterly perplexed by what they had just seen. Boom! was an imaginative and wildly uneven European art film masquerading as a mainstream Hollywood movie and the general public just wasn’t interested. They wanted to see Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in more easily defined roles such as “tenacious slut” (Taylor) or “troubled saint” (Burton). And they longed for simpler drama with a basic narrative that was easy to follow. But by 1968 both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had grown weary of the typical roles Hollywood was offering them and they wanted to make more challenging films together. Boom! would turn out to be one of the most challenging films that the actors ever worked on. But it would also receive the worst reviews of their careers and mark what many consider to be the decline of one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. A shared addiction to alcohol and Taylor’s growing reliance on prescription drugs was starting to take its toll on the two actors and their very public marriage. The couple’s wealth, fame and glamorous lifestyle made Taylor and Burton appear larger than life and at first glance unusual film projects like Doctor Faustus (1967) and Boom! appeared to be self-indulgent vanity projects made without much thought for the general movie-going audiences that had helped make them famous. Resentment seemed to be growing between the popular actors and their adoring fans. And critics were all too eager to take a swipe at Hollywood’s royal couple. Boom! became an easy target and it’s not too hard to see why. The film was based on one of Tennessee Williams’ least accessible and most esoteric plays called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (originally published in 1963) and Williams was also responsible for the film’s script. After two failed Broadway runs of the play Universal Studios still thought they could turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both actors had appeared in financially successful film versions of other Tennessee Williams’ plays individually including, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks; 1956), Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1959) and The Night of the Iguana (John Huston; 1964) so Universal assumed the couple could easily turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit with their double star power. Taylor and Burton gladly accepted the exorbitant salaries Universal Studios offered them to star in Boom! and they looked forward to working on the project with exiled American director Joseph Losey. Losey had been making smart and successful films in Britain for years and the director seemed capable of effortlessly moving between dark psychological dramas with noir overtones such as The Servant (1963) and entertaining pop art extravagances like Modesty Blaise (1966). If Losey had been able to successfully mix multiple elements of his earlier films, as well as better manage his actors, the final results of Boom! may have been more rewarding but I personally think it’s one of the director’s most fascinating and inspired efforts. Boom! focuses on the last two days in the life of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor). Mrs. Goforth is a wealthy, self-absorbed and terminally ill woman who has buried six husbands and is spending the summer at her isolated coastal villa dictating her sensational memoirs to her servant Miss Black (Johnna Simcus). Her health problems and tortured memories cause her to be in constant pain so she numbs herself with booze, pills, morphine and shots of vitamin B administrated by her doctor. With “Keep Off” signs surrounding her property and a pack of vicious attack dogs controlled by an aggressive dwarf (Michael Dunn), Sissy Goforth assumes she won’t be bothered. But her isolated existence comes to an end when a handsome stranger named Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) unexpectedly arrives by boat. Chris is a poet who also makes modern Alexander Calder-style mobiles out of metal. These mobiles are designed to symbolize freedom and Sissy Goforth soon finds out that Chris has come to the island to free her from her shackled existence. After inviting her only close friend known as “The Witch of Capri” (played by celebrated playwright Noel Coward) for an unusual dinner of boiled “sea monster” and roasted pig, The Witch uses his powers of divination to inform Sissy Goforth that Chris Flanders is also known as the “Angel of Death” due to his uncanny ability to arrive at the home of wealthy women just as they’re about to die and relieve them of their valuable possessions. Sissy Goforth is sexually attracted to Chris but she’s deeply disturbed when she hears this news. She hasn’t finished her memoirs yet and she has no desire to leave the world and “go forth” into the great unknown, so she refuses to feed Chris and spends her last hours verbally sparring with him (as the couple were prone to do in previous films such as The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of the Shrew). This strange allegorical fable ends with Sissy Goforth drifting into oblivion as Chris guides her through her final moments and relieves her of her precious jewels, which he promptly throws into the sea. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Tennessee William’s script for Boom! is very similar to his original play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore but the title was simplified by using a word that Richard Burton’s Angel of Death character utters every time he hears the waves crashing against the rocks below the cliff-side villa. He explains to Sissy Goforth at one point that “Boom!” is the sound of “the shock of each moment of still being alive” and it’s meant as a sort of wake up call to get her to appreciate her final hours on earth. In some ways Boom! rehashes many of the issues found in Tennessee William’s previous work such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which explored the lives of sexually frustrated and isolated individuals, alcoholism and terminal disease, a fear of death and an inability to let go of the past. But Boom! is more of a figurative fable that tackles Williams’ favorite themes in an abstract and metaphorical way. It was also inspired by Japanese kabuki theatre and the structure of the film resembles traditional kabuki plays as re-imagined by the American playwright.

The talented set designer and artist Richard MacDonald was hired to design the lavish set for Boom! which was built in Italy on the beautiful Sardinian coast. McDonald had worked with Joseph Losey on many of his best films such as Eva (1962), The Servant (1963) and Modesty Blaise (1966) but his set design for Boom! would become one of his greatest an grandest creations. In a style that’s reminiscent of the magnificent modern structures designed by architect Le Corbusier, Richard MacDonald gave Sissy Goforth’s isolated summer home curving white walls, round windows and stark interiors framing numerous paintings and objects of art that were often meant to convey death. The structure is supposed to symbolically represent the transitional state that Sissy Goforth has found herself in and it’s surrounded by giant rock sculptures that are similar to the ones found on Easter Island. Losey and the brilliant cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the film in spectacular Panavison, which captured every lush detail of the expansive set and gave the film an other-worldly look. Losey has long been one of my favorite filmmakers and in Boom! he resurrects many of the elements that made his previous films so interesting while exploring some of his favorite themes involving alienation and the artificial superiority often caused by class distinctions. Losey is truly a master of framing and composition, and in Boom! these skills are used to great effect in order to show the isolation faced by all the characters in such an expansive, yet claustrophobic space. Characters are seen peering through round windows and shot in distorted mirrors, which can represent a reflective moment or the distorted view that individuals often have of themselves and the world around them. Losey also uses sound very creatively in his film by having Sissy Goforth dictate her memoirs through the villa’s elaborate intercom system so they can be heard by her entire staff. Additionally Sissy controls the music heard in the film by turning the sound system on or off depending on her mood. When the camera zooms in on the sun or an electric light you can often hear a strange shimmering or buzzing sound in the background. And the repetitive noise caused by the sea crashing against the rocks is obviously an important metaphor for the natural ebb and flow of life on the island, which could be seen as a small microcosm of the transitory world that we all live in. John Barry is responsible for the film’s impressive soundtrack and it’s one of the British composer’s most experimental scores. Barry worked closely with Losey on the film and the director made many suggestions that were incorporated into the soundtrack. Unfortunately, Losey’s focus on shooting the fabulous manufactured interiors designed for Boom! and perfectly framing all the drama and action made him somewhat neglectful of his actors. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn are all talented thespians and Taylor and Burton are able to deliver truly great performances but in Boom! they often seem a bit lost and in need of direction. At least Noel Coward is very funny in his role and he may have been the only person on the set who completely understood the humor in William’s original script. It’s been assumed and confirmed by Losey himself that the cast and crew were often drunk from too much sea, sun, celebrity and booze during shooting and it’s a shame that the director wasn’t able to gain more control over his cast but I’m sure Taylor and Burton were not very easy to manage at the time. On the other hand, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn don’t fare any better so I’m inclined to blame the uneven performances from all of the actors on Losey’s direction. It’s unfortunate that the dark humor found in Tennessee Williams’ original play seems as if it’s occasionally suffocating under all the artistry of the director’s elaborate production but at its best Boom! should make you laugh as well as think and the film does both at times. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Elizabeth Taylor is the undeniable star of Boom! and the film spends most of its 110 minute running time focused on her. Since she looks fabulous in the film it’s easy to understand why. Taylor gives a completely over-the-top and scene-chewing performance that must be seen to be believed. But it’s also a rather daring role for an actress who was much younger then the character in Tennessee Williams’ original play. In one of the movies most unforgettable moments Taylor has a five minute long coughing attack and you can’t help but assume that she’s actually choking to death on the set or attempting to throw up an unwanted lung. The role of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth struck a little too close to home for Taylor and she saw a lot of herself in the character. It’s worth pointing out that the script forced the actress to talk on and on about Sissy Goforth’s numerous dead husbands who were abusive and suffered from impotence (two things Taylor had supposedly experienced herself) as well as her “one true love” who was an adventurous mountain climber that fell to his death. As much as Elizabeth Taylor passionately loved Richard Burton, she was also still troubled by the unexpected death of her previous husband, Mike Todd. Todd had been an adventurous man himself who was killed in a terrible plane crash years earlier but his death still deeply bothered the actress. Many of Taylor’s monologues in the film were supposed to be humorous but when the director tried to get Taylor to lighten up and have more fun with her role she would often become withdrawn or overact. Richard Burton told Joseph Losey later that Elizabeth had been haunted on the set of Boom! by the specter of Mike Todd, which could possibly explain the uncomfortable distance between Burton and Taylor that seems strangely apparent in the film at times. Richard Burton’s part was a lot less demanding and in many ways it resembled the phantasm-like role that Taylor previously played in Burton’s own film version of Doctor Faustus. His character was actually a much younger man in the original play and Burton expressed concern about taking the role but he managed to make the most out of his part and the actor actually gives a very measured performance in the film. Burton’s Angel of Death doesn’t speak often but when he does his words are carefully chosen, even when he’s arguing with Sissy Goforth. One of Burton’s greatest gifts was his voice and it’s smartly used in Boom! as a tool to seduce Taylor’s character with. As mentioned above, Burton’s Angel of Death also repeats the phrase “Boom!” over and over again, and in the end it is his booming voice that guides Sissy Goforth towards her death and into the great unknown. Besides providing some unforgettable eye-candy, the elaborate costumes in Boom! add an important element to the film. Since the structure of the script and the original play resemble a modern take on traditional Japanese kabuki plays, Burton’s Angel of Death is dressed in a black kimono throughout the movie. But instead of carrying a scythe, he carries a Japanese samurai sword. Elizabeth Taylor insisted that her own character be dressed in white and black flowing costumes throughout the film, which were supposed to represent death shrouds. Taylor is also seen wearing an elaborate kabuki inspired costume during her memorable dinner scene with Noel Coward and she additionally pretends to act out a bit of kabuki theater after she’s had a few too many cocktails. Even though Boom! has suffered from negative criticism since its original release, the film does have a few noteworthy defenders. Richard Burton believed that Elizabeth Taylor delivered one of her greatest performances in Boom! and Tennessee Williams thought that Boom! was “an artistic success” and he hoped that eventually it would “be received with acclaim.” The critic Andrew Sarris criticized what he thought were the film’s “metaphysical posturing and pretenses,” and the “tendency for nothing much to happen for the longest stretches” but he also complemented Joseph Losey’s skilled use of mise en scène and his ability to create “glamorous fantasy.” Boom! also happens to be director John Waters’ favorite film and he has even championed it at universities. Waters’ considers Boom! to be the ultimate “failed art film” from the sixties. But even with its failings I think there is a lot to enjoy. If you’re not interested in contemplating the larger ideas that Joseph Losey and his cast and crew were trying to communicate with Boom! you can still appreciate the film purely for Elizabeth Taylor’s show-stopping performance, John Barry’s experimental score, Richard MacDonald’s stunning set designs or Taylor’s jaw-dropping wardrobe. Many people consider Boom! to be a “camp classic” and if the original humor of Williams’ script is lost on you, you might still discover plenty of unintentional laughs in Losey’s film. Boom! is currently only available in widescreen on a PAL Region 2 DVD from the Dutch company De Filmfreak Distributie and it currently sells at Amazon for $28.99. You can also still find copies of the original Universal Studios video of Boom! selling at Amazon for ridiculous prices. Hopefully a Region 1 DVD of Boom! will be released in the future. If you’d like to see a clip from the film you can view one at the official De Filmfreak Distributie site linked below: Clip from Boom! It’s taking me much longer than expected to write about some of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor films due to real world responsibilities and lack of free time, so my small Tribute to Taylor will be ongoing for at least another week. There are still some other Taylor films I’d like to cover here. In the meantime, I’ve just learned that Elizabeth Taylor is currently in the hospital and not doing very well. Hopefully she’ll recover quickly since she seems to have an extremely strong constitution that has saved her from numerous brushes with death in the past. NOTE: This text was published as part of the soundtrack notes for the official CD release of John Bary’s score for Boom!.