• Ravi Swami

Two Sellers and a Rohmer...1951, 1961, 2018



A combination off the Christmas "break", the start of the new year and distraction of events in the U.S have slightly shot to pieces my intention of exploring films, hence the less than regular posts - now less of a deep dive and more a case of frequently coming up for air.


I thought I'd check out some documentaries, which are of equal interest to me compared to fictional narrative films.


The streaming service I've been using has recently added some examples of Peter Sellers' films, some of which are very familiar, such as "The Lady Killers" and "Dr Strangelove", and the collection charts his rise as a comedic actor, starting with his early collaborations resulting from his role as a founding member of the "The Goons".


However, what drew my attention first was Peter Medak's documentary about his ill-fated Sellers vehicle "Ghost in The Noon-Day Sun", which collapsed, never to be fully completed or released, following a combination of production disasters and Sellers himself, who by this time - following a series of failed relationships with various actresses, the most recent of which was with Liza Minelli - had become increasingly erratic, so much so that he sacked Medak and assumed control of the film that he had co-scripted with his long-time Goon collaborator, Spike Milligan.


It's a fascinating look at how quickly the already complex enterprise of making a film can become a train-wreck, with the same level of fascination watching it happen. Medak made the film to absolve himself of 4 decades of guilt and grief over the project, the worst entry in a career notable for some successful films.


Not yet in the mood to watch an entire film, I checked out a theatrical short in which Sellers stars : "Let's Go Crazy" (1951), which is included with another film, "Penny Points To Paradise" in some DVD / BluRay collections. The film is an early vehicle and showcase for his developing talents playing different comedic characters, following in the footsteps of Alec Guinness, an actor whose versatility he admired.


Set in a cabaret restaurant, Sellers appears in a series of skits with Spike Milligan and others which are intercut with various Music Hall acts. Knowing something about Sellers childhood Music Hall experiences through his mother it's no stretch to imagine that the film is a kind of homage to those old-time acts, with Sellers representing the future through the medium of cinema, as the Music Halls gradually faded in popularity and the much-loved stage acts of his early formative years disappeared from view.


Eager to check out some more of Eric Rohmer's work I spotted a very early film of his : "Charlotte and her Steak". It's interesting to see the evolution of a director's style in a series of films, and as stated in a previous post, Rohmer, though being part of the French New Wave for some time via his critical essays for "Cahiers Du Cinema", had yet to take the plunge into actually making films like his contemporaries, Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard, so the film appears to be his first tentative steps toward that end.


Surprisingly, it shows that Rohmer's simple style of film-making and narrative seems to have sprung fully-formed in this elegant and lean "slice of life" short, where nothing much seems to happen besides banal exchanges between a young Jean Luc Godard (with hair..) and his on-off girlfriend, the discussion hinging upon who he actually loves between two woman, Clara or the Charlotte of the title, while Charlotte is in a hurry to catch a train out of town...and that's it, besides the steak that Charlotte prepares and shares with Godard's character.


It's a great object lesson in economy both in terms of narrative and technique, besides touching on truth in the dialogue, where often what is actually not spoken reveals more than what is.

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