Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sicily, The Leopard, food, Burt Lancaster, Visconti and was Dirk Bogarde merely ham or just a very bad actor?

There was an interesting programme on TV the other night (and I watched it on iPlayer) by the Italian food bod Antonio Carlucci about the novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by (Prince) Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author, the novel’s emphasis on food and the meals eaten in the novel.
The novel is about the passing of the old order in Sicily with the invasion of the island by Guiseppe Garibaldi and the slow decline of a noble family, personified by the central character, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina. One of the points made in the novel (which I haven’t read) was that the way of life carries on as before in Sicily with the middle class and gentry taking over the leading role of the nobility. Despite Garibaldi’s invasion to make the island part of a greater Italy, nothing changes. The Prince opposes Garibaldi, but his nephew supports him, although cynically observes that ‘there has to be change in order for things to stay the same. Lampedusa (left) was also a scion of the Sicilian nobility, which also declined and whose various palazzi were destroyed or partially destroyed in the war. He wrote the novel, his one work, in the years before he died in 1955 and lived only to see two publishers reject it for publication. It was finally published in 1958 and became a sensation in Italy and has not been out of print since. As I say, I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen seen Luchino Visconti’s film starring Burt Lancaster, which I enjoyed. The casting was odd in the Lancaster, who didn’t speak Italian well enough to act in the language, spoke his lines in English and was then dubbed. The producers wanted a star name to justify the budget and when Visconti’s suggestion proved unavailable, Hollywood cast Lancaster (below) without consulting Visconti,
who was rather pissed off about it. Alain Delon, though, who played Tancredi, does speak Italian (I think). It’s rather a good film, though very long and not one for action fans. The only other two films by Visconti I’ve seen are Death In Venice and The Damned. I also rather liked Death In Venice, but - well The Damned? What on earth was that? A charitable but honest judgment could go no further than observing that it, and everything about it, is complete bollocks.
I thought it was perhaps the worst or, at best, one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It is - and I’m obliged to add, in my opinion - simply terrible, terrible, terrible. I suppose it underlines the danger of reputation: Visconti had an excellent reputation as a filmmaker and, I should imagine, no one had the heart to tell him his new filmd The Damned (in Italian La Caduta Degli Dei) was complete crap. It must have been something like the Emperor's New Clothes.
Everything is wrong about it, the story, the acting, the direction. In its depiction of the Nazis, it struck me as being like one of those really hammy TV movies which are churned out on a budge to fit around the adverts.
. . .

Then there was Dirk Bogarde: why he is generally thought to be a good actor is beyond me. He was OK in all those light ‘n frothy Doctor films, but then he decided he wanted to be taken seriously (nothing wrong in that, though) and went for ‘serious’ roles. But as far as I am concerned the man couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. There is a publicity
still from the film The Singer Not The Song in which Bogarde stars as a cowboy kitted out in black leather which sums up that man and his talent for me. Ham isn’t the word.
I have just searched on the net for it, but all I can come across are the one above and the one below. The shot of him lying down on the ground - why lying down on the ground? - is particularly ludicrous and gives a further dimension to the word ‘camp’. He seems to be truly unaware of just how ridiculous he looks. What was the man thinking?

. . .
Since writing the above, I did a bit more hunting and have come up with a third still from the film, which is quite possibly even more ludicruous than the one above.
 In most careers, the manage, who is generally thought to be a little more grounded, not to say saner, than the artiste he or she represents, warns about the possibility to looking ridiculous. But as in Bogarde's case his manager Tony
Forward was also his partner, perhaps he wasn't as alert as he might have been to the possibility that the film, from which these stills are taken, could kill Bogarde's Hollywood career stone dead. Which it did.
 I don't have a down on Bogarde, it's just that I don't think he was half as good an actor as he apparently did - he and several famous directors it has to be said. In the second half of his career - the 'serious' half - he did seem to make a pointt of acting in films with a gay theme, for example as the lawyer about to be outed as gay in Victim, of The Servant, which has marked gay undertone.
 I find him especially ludicrous as Julie Christie's lover in Darling, a film which has definitely not stood the test of time. What makes it all the sillier is that his character leaves his wife and family for Christie, who then does the dirty on him, and, in some way, we are supposed to feel sorry for him.
 The screenwriter was Frederic Raphael, who thought - thinks, he's still alive - awfully clever and tried to make every second line a quotable quote. (I've heard some things by him on the radio, and in them he did the same thing.) Unfortunately, all those lines did was to make Bogarde out to be something of a hissy queen. Mind, my stepmother use to fancy him like fury when he was younger. Shame he batted for the other side.
But that's enough Borgarde for the day.



    1. First of all, in the pre-digital age I found it impossible to take seriously anyone who wrote in green ink, and now we are all very modern and post-digital, I find it impossible to take seriously anyone who writes in CAPITALS. As for Mr Bogarde, I suspect you are something of 'a fan' and are thus unable to view him and his work objectively. I don't suffer from that disadvantage and so I can assure you that he was a ham who got increasingly hammier as the work became more 'serious'. Sad, but true

    2. Dear pfg powell,

      normally I don't write messages on blog-sites, but stumbling across yours, and being a Dirk Bogarde-fan, I couldn't resist the temptation...
      Re 'The Damned' might think it's terrible, but what exactly do you mean? The story, the acting, the direction... Don't quite understand what's so terrible about it. The MOVIE was meant to be shocking and terrible, given the material...which was, admittedly, sick. The greedy and power-hungry family of the Essenbecks, the Nazi business, and on top of it all Helmut Berger...for pedophilia and having sex with your own mother is sick, no doubt about that. I'm not a huge fan of that particular movie either, but if it was meant to confuse, disturb or shock, it certainly fulfilled it's mission I'd say.
      And now to Mr. Bogarde. If you state that he couldn't act his way out of a paper-bag...well, I think you find yourself in the minority. Dirk Bogarde was known for being able to play a scene in three, five or even eight different ways, and that in quick succession. A director remarked once how he enjoyed Bogarde's ability to adapt so quickly. You picked out 'Singer not the Song'... well, the whole thing was miscast, so much is for sure. And the stills you selected were not the best choice either, so you might be right about Forwood being carried away a bit (which doesn't surprise me, LOL!) But, I must give Dirk some credit to have the guts to slip into black leathers at the time (1960), and to play a bandit with an ambiguous sexuality. For the story was meant to provoke... Canadian priest moves to small town which is being terrorized by a bandit who's against the church...only thing is, said bandit develops a weakness for the priest, who falls in love with the nice girl next door. Rather daring at the time. But it was miscast...nobody wanted to do it really, but being tied down by the studio, there wasn't much of a choice. So, in desperation, as Dirk wrote later, he slipped into black leathers, got himself a white cat and camped it silly. So if you ask what he was thinking, well, now you know. It was his last Rank-movie, so he didn't give a damn. And the result? The movie went down the drain, and never have so many black leather pants been sold in France and the UK. And re Bogarde's Hollywood career... yes it probably destroyed things for him there but I don't think he was particularly keen on that anyway - especially if it would have meant to marry some Hollywood-starlet as an alibi.
      Now to his more serious roles, yes, they HAD a homoerotic undertone. 'Victim' was a gutsy movie to make at the time as well, and please don't tell me you think Dirk Bogarde couldn't act...esp. in 'Victim'. If you really thought he was such a bad actor, you wouldn't have enjoyed 'Death in Venice' either. Also I don't see what was wrong with 'Darling' - for that one wasn't about Dirk's character, but Julie Christie's as you have surely realized. Couldn't have been that bad if she got an Oscar for it...and I honestly can't see what made HIS character ridiculous. As for 'The Servant'- imo, it was a masterpiece.
      And please let's not forget we talk about a man who was fed up with the cinema at around the age of fifty, took refuge in France and could only be lured out by the best directors to make the occasional film. can someone like that be a bad actor? Also, and I don't know how old you are, but one can't compare the movies of a Dirk Bogarde with today's films - they have to be seen in the context of the time in which he made them as well, and he goes back a long way.

    3. So it might be that I'm not objective either (objectiveness doesn't exist anyway), but there surely is a reason why Dirk Bogarde had an influence on other actors and artists, and he still has a following today. Truth to be said, it probably wasn't his acting which pulled people in in the first place - it was his personality. If you'd like to hear an intelligent actor talk, you might want to check out
      Before you condemn him - unless you are a professional film critic, dunno you MIGHT be - give the man a chance.

    4. I agree that nothing is ever objective and that just as much as I think Bogarde a ham, you rate him rather higher. As for The Damned, you ask what I thought was bad about it. Well, I can answer in one word (and I’m not being flip, either): everything. It wasn’t the subject matter, which, as you say, was shocking. It was that just as in The Leopard Visconti showed he had judgment and taste, in The Damned, for whatever reason, it seems utterly to have deserted him. Completely. Everything about it seemed ill-conceived, from the clash of different acting styles and the mish-mash of accents to the poor script. I remember thinking when I saw it that it resembled nothing less than a piss-poor TV film done on a shoestring (and Visconti was never one to do anything on a shoestring, so there’s a mystery in itself). An analysis of power, which The Damned was partly intended to be, demands subtlety. The Damned was anything but subtle. Historically it was ludicrous: the one thing about Hitler and the Nazis was that they were essentially middlebrow - the only two with any brains were Goebbels and Speer. The had a dog-in-the-manger attitude to ‘class’ and money and would have cultivated the steel baron and his family. But as you say, everything is subjective. You rate it, I don’t.
      As for Bogarde’s ‘more serious’ films, he should be applauded for tackling the then more or less taboo subject of homosexuality in film. There is even a covert homoerotic thread in The Servant. I agree that these films were very much of their time and to be fair, they must be seen in context, but I sincerely don’t think Bogarde was as good as he thought he was. He was fine Rank light comedies, but even in his war films he seems curiously camp and ham and I, for one, could and can never suspend disbelief. There is a range of actors - John Wayne is one - who are always ‘themselves’: I never see the character they are playing but only the actor. And, for me, that sums up Bodarde. As for Darling, time has been very, very unkind to the film and furthermore at no point can I ever believe in a love affair between Bogarde and Julie Christie. The script by Frederic Raphael does it no favours, either. I’m afraid to say I regard him, too, as a ham. Sorry, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    5. We have to agree to disagree...LOL! Agreed. Well, the Damned wasn't Visconti's best, there's no doubt about that. As for the mish-mash of accents, well it was a European film...and thus, a 'spe-shl proda...prodac-chn' to cite Helmut Berger. But V. could have done better, true. Bogarde must have thought the same thing for he turned the script down three times to begin with...till he met Visconti in Rome. And there he said yes within a few seconds...must have been a reason why V. was nicknamed 'the Emperor' back then.
      Re 'The Servant' - I haven't read the original novel, but as far as I know it was based on a real story. Not sure if it happened to the author himself...but apparently he came home unexpectedly with his girlfriend, and, opening the door of his servant's room, he found a naked youth spread out in front of him. Or was it on the kitchen table, can't remember... Anyway, as he stood staring in shock, he heard a balmy voice whispering into his ear:"I see you are admiring my nephew, sahr...I can send him up later to say goodnight to you, sahr..? So, this is how Barrett came about and where the homoerotic thread came from.
      Re Bogarde, I never got the impression that HE thought he was over the top. On the contrary, if you listen to him talk he's the first to admit that half of the time he didn't know what he was doing. Personally, I don't like many movies he made before the age of forty, although there are a few exceptions, 'Hunted', for one, or "A Tale of two Cities' but the latter I suppose has to do with the fact that it's a classic. Since I'm not into light rom-coms in the first place I can't get much out of those Rank films, let alone the 'Doctor'-movies. Re Dirk being camp even in war movies...well, yeah, he was, but it could have been much worse. He certainly wasn't a 'butch' type of guy. I'd still love to see him in Losey's 'King and Country' though.
      And you are right you know - when you watch Bogarde, you actually do see him, not necessarily the character he plays. And this is, I think, where opinions differ. Some people like Bogarde BECAUSE of that. I know I do. Many of his movies are, especially when he had the freedom of choice, about him somehow. Some directors had seen Bogarde and had a script ready, written especially for him. Sometimes it took years for a movie to come together, sometimes Dirk pulled out at the beginning and the whole project folded. Many 'some's here...
      So camp, yes. Ham, hmmmm... But I'm not trying to persuade you here ;-) The question is probably: what makes a really good actor/actress? One who can play anything convincingly I suppose. Anyone who comes to mind?