Thursday, 18 August 2016

Smashing Time (1967)

'We're going to have a Smashing Time' declare Yvonne (Lynn Redgrave) and Brenda (Rita Tushingham), two young women from the North, who have come to London to became rich and famous. However London  is not all that it seems and the girls have to battle terrible housing, amorous older men, the music industry, strange fashions and even stranger people!

Smashing Time was a spoof of Swinging London, the music, models, fashion, colour and psychedelia. Yvonne eventually becomes a singer (despite the fact she can't sing) and her only song becomes a huge hit, whilst Brenda becomes a model (and showcases some moves reminiscent of Julie Christie in Darling). Before this Brenda gets a job in a boutique, 'Too Much', where she makes the mistake of actually selling the items. The owner of the shop doesn't want anything to be sold, she just wants her shop to be a place for the 'cool kids' to hang out. One of the cleverer sequences involves a spoof of 'Candid Camera', entitled 'You Can't Help Laughing'. People genuinely have terrible things happen to them, but as they receive a prize all is forgiven, despite lingering questions from the audience. When Yvonne walks down Carnaby St everyone is having their photo taken, as she does, but with less than great results. The Beatles, Twiggy and David Bailey are all spoofed in the film as is the 60s penchant for wearing wigs, second hand clothes shopping and experimental art exhibitions.

The film has some rather chaotic sequences, including two very drawn out food fights that don't really seem to serve a purpose. At one stage Brenda attends an art exhibition showcasing crazy robots made by a mad scientist. This scientist was played by Bruce Lacey, who really was something of a mad scientist, but is best known as George's flute playing gardener in The Beatles film Help! The film also features cameos from Tushingham's A Taste of Honey co-stars, Murray Melvin and Paul Danquah. It did poorly at the box office, some claiming because the 'fad' of Swinging London was coming to an end, but today it remains a time capsule of the colour and craziness of the time.

Sometimes the film feels as if it is trying too hard to be funny, other times the funniness comes at unexpected moments. The ending happens too quickly, the girls discover that everyone is shallow, they rekindle their friendship and decided to return home (all in the space of 5mins). Still despite its flaws it is a fun film and makes you want to time travel back to the 60s!


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Summer Reading Challenge: The Hustler

The Hustler by Walter Tevis tells the story of 'Fast' Eddie Felson, a young, talented pool hustler. After losing to the famous, Minnesota Fats, in a forty hour game of pool Eddie has to revaluate his life as well as raise enough money for a rematch. He takes up with the alcholic, Sarah, who he moves in with and begins playing in smaller pool halls.  A man called Bert becomes his manager and begins to train Eddie for the rematch with Minnesota Fats. The novel published in 1959 was made into a film starring Paul Newman in 1961.

Tevis' novel is fast paced, easy to read, but realistic and gritty. His characters are complicated and full of conflicting emotions. The pool scenes are particularly tense but even if you don't know anything about pool (as I don't!) Tevis makes them entertaining. His style of writing is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway and blends world weariness with questioning, often poetic statements.

"there seemed to be no longer a range of sensitivity to his vision. He felt he could see in the dark or could stare at the sun-the brightest sun at full noon-and stare it out of the sky" p. 45

 “He liked brains, and he admired people who read books. He had read a few himself” p. 64

“Then, suddenly, she turned and began limping back, slowly. For a moment he felt as if he could not breathe” p. 68

For the most part the film follows the book very closely (minus a few small differences), the biggest difference is that in the novel Sarah doesn't die, she doesn't even go with Eddie to Kentucky. They simply part in a way characteristic of their entire relationship, neither one fully able to commit to the other. Her death in the film changes the atmosphere of several scenes, Eddie's game with Findlay becomes less victorious, Bert becomes even more of a villain and Sarah's choices are more complex. Sarah's suicide in the film also gives Eddie's final victory even more weight.
The casting of the film was also excellent-Paul Newman is perfect as Eddie portraying the right mixture of arrogance, confusion, talent and like-ability. Piper Laurie is also well cast as Sarah, world-weary and vulnerable. Shot in back and white the film perfectly sets the scene of the novel, the seedy pool rooms, the bus stop, the dark streets and the variety of characters Eddie encounters along the way.

"The cigarette tasted like tar…’What did you give me, ‘ he said, ‘marijuana?’
She smiled the faint smile again. ‘They’re French.’
‘What for?’
She seemed to think a moment. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘to impress my friends, probably.’ 
It was a peculiar answer, but sufficient” p. 54

The Hustler is a fascinating novel, a look at mans ability to win and lose and how their natural talent and arrogance create these outcomes. Tevis creates memorable characters and atmospheric settings, it is a novel well worth reading, and one that I think should be talked about more often.