Tag Archives: Goldie Hawn

Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942) and Foul Play (Colin Higgins, 1978): A Connection

Watching Saboteur, I also observed that the whole concept of the scene at Radio City Music Hall is pretty much lifted whole-hog but played more for laughs in Foul Play. I’ve put the scenes one after the other here, for those who might be interested:

 

 

A very brief note on gay ‘sensibility’ in Foul Play

 

This thought was incurred by the Before Stonewall programme of films at Lincoln Centre and by Guy Madden’s excellent programme of films at Harvard, as well as the suspicion that retrospectives of ‘gay’ films almost always dwell on instances of representation rather than ‘sensibility’ or ‘structures of feeling’ or other elements that are harder to classify but just as clearly communicated, and historically perhaps even more important, as they were a subcultural form of communication but clearly understood through mainstream media, something akin to the minstrelry Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes in Blues, Ideology, and African American Literature, A Vernacular Theory, when he describes blacks donning black-face in minstrel shows and performing to a mixed audience in a way so inflected that the black audience were aware but the white audience possibly not.

I saw Foul Play when I was 14 and it’s the first film I saw which I knew was somehow gay without it having any gay characters to speak of. Today there are many things one can point to: the film’s empathy with outsiders and misfits of all kinds (though some might find the scene above on the verge of being offensive; the film makes amends later); the feminist overtones which then over-hung the incipient gay liberation movement — a girlfriend gives Goldie Hawn’s Gloria a whole array of tool with which to defend herself against male aggression; the San Francisco setting; the way the Dudley Moore character travels through the saunas and discos in search of a quick shag in ways much more characteristic of gay men of the period than heterosexual ones; the type of cinephilia, with its adoring send-ups of thriller/horror tropes; the opera sub-plot and it’s comic use of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado; the plot to kill the pope; the camp humour with which it’s all told; the tracing of this sensibility to its director, one of the first to be openly gay, who had written Harold and Maude before and would later go on to direct such camp classics as 9 to Five and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas before dying of AIDS in 1988: one easily notes the patterns of the films and of the career.  Back then, the only thing I could point to was how in the last shot, the extras looked like the pornstars that then adorned the covers of Blueboy or Mandate magazines, and were later to adorn the covers of Falcon videos. As you can see from the clip above  — where Goldie Hawn plays a librarian who is being chased for a microfilm she doesn’t know she has by a killer nicknamed The Dwarf — it’s all very gay, in every sense of the word. And one knew it, even then, even at 14 but without quite knowing why.

 

José Arroyo

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An image that seemed suspiciously like porn

The Lady in the Van (Nicholas Hytner, UK, 2015)

the lady in the van

It seems a sin that Maggie Smith’s performance in Lady in the Van — surely one of the very greatest in living memory — be showcased in as drab-looking, poorly directed, and stagily-structured film. Alan Bennett — Mr. Modest, Mr. Timid and Mr. Professional Yorkshireman — also turns out to have an ego the size of the Twin Towers, appearing in four different guises throughout the film, two as himself doubled by excellent impersonations from Alex Jennings, one as one of the Alex Jennings Bennetts appearing in ‘Talking Heads’ at The National, and yet one more time, as the real Alan Bennett coming to greet the fictional Alan Bennett as he’s shooting a film about Alan Bennett, like the coy milking of applause by an ageing diva, half-hiding behind the fan of her previous celebrity, saying ‘no, please, little old me?’ with one hand and urging the audience to amp up the applause with the other. It’s shameless.

There are lots of laughs, almost all from Smith, and lots that is unspeakably bad, almost all due to Hytner, who doesn’t seem to know the basics of using a camera, or lights or sound or editing; and who uses the device of the two Alan Bennetts speaking to each other – an old trick that is hoary now even on stage – without any imagination as to sight or sound on film and is a device that holds up the narrative. Also, there’s so much reading of narration (all timid Bennett’s of course as read by modest Bennett) you sometimes wonder whether the filmmakers remembered they were making a movie. Maggie Smith, star that she is, survives, rises above all this naff incompetence, and in my humble view gives the finest comic performance on film since Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin, in spite of the director who doesn’t know how to showcase her, and in spite of a writer who tries to push her out of the picture to make room for himself.

The film rewards viewing as an embodiment and prime exemplar of the many negative qualities historically ascribed to British cinema and as a lesson to future filmmakers in what to avoid.

José Arroyo