So I Married an Axe Murderer

While flipping through the radio channels I dropped into the first bars of Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers and was instantly transported years back to a very particular scene. The scene in question was not a moment in my own life but from a film made in 1993 which has, strangely, has a definitive presence in my film-watching life. The film in question, as the title of this post aptly gives away, is So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Just to make sure the feeling of love for this particular flick had not evaporated with time I located my VHS copy, pressed play and revisited old memories. And almost twenty years later it still holds ground. Rarely talked about but always remembered, for my parts, So I Married an Axe Murderer is a rough gem well worth revisiting.

A small film in big capable hands. Filled with cameos from grumpy comedians and directed by Thomas Schlamme, more famous for his TV work such as being the director of Sports Night and The West Wing where he also served as executive producer. Why he hasn’t directed more films is beyond me. It’s also a shame that Robbie Fox has disappeared from the cinema as the script is well written, often hysterically funny and bursting with good ideas (although I have a feeling a lot of the dialogue was improvised). According to the sacred text of IMDB he has one project in development his last outing was unfortunately In the Army Now with Pauly Shore in 1994, talk about a great downward spiral.

Here are some choice examples of the writing quality, and the film is packed with delicious anecdotes:

Tony: Charlie, two words: therapy.

and

Charlie: Hey Mom, I find it interesting that you refer to the Weekly World News as, “The paper.” The paper contains facts.
May: This paper contains facts. And this paper has the eighth highest circulation in the whole wide world. Right? Plenty of facts. “Pregnant man gives birth.” That’s a fact.

So I Married an Axe Murderer is far from perfect but despite myself I love its inconsistencies like the extra who turns up in the butcher-shop twice (obvious continuity error), that we never know what Charlie actually does or how Harriet has such a magnificent flat. Who cares? The film also veers into strange bylines, most of which have to do with Charlie’s friend Tony, played by an almost boyish Anthony LaPaglia, like Tony’s problems at work, their visit to Alcatraz and his journey to save Charlie. Most of which are fairly unnecessary but add extra charm.

By the end the film has run out of steam a little, veer downwards can be located exactly from the moment Charlie and Harriet head off to their honeymoon, but this minor error does not erase its many many qualities.

Still good, still funny and still totally hooked on the 90s.

ps. The poetry readings are the stuff of legend. Satirical and a perfect example of good bad writing, not to mention that Mike Myers’ delivery is spot on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETPRsJ-exZw&feature=related

Little Lone Star

The moment where Chris Cooper is driving to see Elizabeth Pena in Lone Star under the tunes of this song is devastating.

Female force vs. Female sex-kittenry

Imagine my thrill when I found out that Lynda LaPlante, the writer behind the fantastic Prime Suspect starring the sumptuous and stern Helen Mirren, was penning a new female-driven series based on her character DC Anna Travis.

When it was first broadcast in 1991 Prime Suspect signaled a new era of procedural police drama with strong characters and great story texture. Helen Mirren played Jane Tennison a no-nonsense DCI whose ambitions was constantly being thwarted by a misogynist system. Twenty years on it’s shocking to see the blatant sexism which was common practice and is portrayed with great clarity. Note all the scenes where Tennison is the only female in a room, whether it’s with co-workers, interviewees or criminals, and the post-workday drink that her male co-workers share, she is never invited. The misogyny isn’t restricted to the workplace but filters through society as a whole as the male police officers often confront female witnesses with contempt and Tennison constantly struggles with juggling her personal life and her career, her domestic struggles with her partner (a wonderful glimpse of Tom Wilkinson) is fraught with negotiations and tension. Helen Mirren played her strong yet vulnerable; human.

From the first scene of Above Suspicion I sensed that this series definitely was not on the same track, and more importantly had veered considerably far off road. In one of our first glimpse of Travis she is seen as awkwardly treading through a muddy crime scene wearing her black designer shoes and trendy black miniskirt. Instant warning. Why isn’t she better prepared? Why does she show up at a crime scene looking like she is a secretary for corporation law firm? And it goes on because most of Kelly Reilly’s, who incidentally was in Prime Suspect 4, close ups seems to consist of her throwing her fashionably mussed and gloriously red hair about and pouting her lips. I think she definitely has screen presence and hints of acting chops but they are hard to locate in this particular outing. This time main female is just a vulnerable little girl, who occasionally has some insights, trying to survive in the big bad world.

Now let us turn to the wonderful Ciarán Hinds, no stranger to Lynda LaPlante either as he played a central character in Prime Suspect 3, who has spent most of his career under the radar. A long time inhabitant of the stage he got his film start in the infamous Excalibur which also brought us the talent of Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson. Since then he has mostly been in the shadows as a supporting player. A man of quiet intensity his slightest move, as shown in the fantastic Persuasion, can be instantly engaging. But he has another side to him which he pulls out of the bag, for reasons which elude me, with some frequency: The shouty strong-man. I tend to blame this streak on the Hollywood mentality where everything bigger is obviously better rather rather than on him as an actor, because the talent is most certainly there in spades. DCI Langton, his character in Above Suspicion, is unfortunately grounded in this method. Abrasive, testy and loud, really loud. Yes, the character is all of those things but it can be brought out in other ways than constant shouting.

The main problem that I have with it is that this personification makes his characters instantly less interesting in almost every case, even boring. He is infinitely more talented than that. There is a wonderful little scene in the first series of Above Suspicion where he has burst into Travis’ house to berate her, he does that a lot. After a solid thrashing there is an awkward silence and all of a sudden his eyes drop down, almost embarrassingly and he says: “God, you smell nice” in the softest of voices. That little line is far more effective than any number of the shouty speeches we have heard from him up to that point.

Not satisfied with the TV experience of Above Suspicion I made a point of picking up the first two novels of the series. Although not the best examples of the crime genre the are mildly more interesting as the sexual relationship of Travis and Langton is present from the first book (has barely started in the second TV series), Travis is portrayed as infinitely more intuitive (obviously thinking with her brain and not her hair) and slightly more awkward, plus the secondary characters get more room to breathe. However, I am still mildly annoyed at how infantile the Travis character can sometimes be and at the unnecessary length of the novel, nothing happens quite a lot. However, I am intrigued by one thing and that is the replacement of the independent profiler, whom Langton is supposedly sleeping with, in the original Red Dahlia to the role of the Commander in the TV series. It does give an interesting spin on Langton sleeping with his boss to get a leg up on the investigation, however it does annoy me how we never questions the fact that he is in charge of that relationship as well. The pure Alpha-male.

When all of these factors are added up one cannot help but feel that this significantly lowers the quality of the show, doesn’t help that it’s based on fairly shoddy writing. In stead of being the intellectually engaging experience of Prime Suspect this newest venture is lowered into being a run-of-the mill shlock. Although never boring it’s only mildly entertaining and it’s doubtful that I had ever watched the series if Ciarán Hinds had not been in a starring role. Recently it was announced that a third series had been given go signal and, ever the optimist, I have some hopes although I have a sinking feeling that it’s going to be much of the same. Shame.

I commented earlier that it is shocking to see the blatant and cruel misogyny that thrived twenty years ago but what is possibly even more shocking is that  today the Tennisons have almost disappeared from the screens completely and have been replaced by younger sex-kittenish Travis models set in a world which might have more female characters but they are more often than not pushed to the sidelines, as lower-ranked officers, hookers or murder victims.

John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, part 2

Now we turn ourselves to the men of the production. Who are no less illustrious than our ladies.

Lets start with the author, or in this case the adaptor. Frank McGuinness, an Irish playwright and poet, has a long and illustrious history of adapting classic plays, quite a number of them have been Ibsen productions. In the late 80s and early 90s, after he had solidified his reputation as a playwright, he was involved in no less than four Ibsen productions: Rosmersholm, Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House. The last one was in 1997 and after more than a decade’s break he is back with John Gabriel Borkman. This article from the Guardian is actually quite a good overview on his career, even though it’s two years old.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2008/oct/18/frank-mcguinness

I confess that I have not had the chance to read his work but that is now most definitely and firmly on my ‘must read now’ list. From what I can gather his is less concerned with localising his adaptations but focuses more on the characters themselves, that they are true to themselves. He seems to approach his writing with a howling intensity and emotional brutality.

And now to the main event: Alan Rickman. For years he has been a top favorite of mine with regards to his films, as will become abundantly clear in later posts. I have gone out of my way to track even his smallest appearances down, YouTube is a wonderful friend (this clip being a very good example), to the point of purposefully going on extensive VHS hunts in charity shops. My favorite find to date was his appearance in Close My Eyes by Stephen Poliakoff which also stars a very boyish looking Clive Owen. Quite an odd little film about siblings that start a sexual relationship, with Alan Rickman playing the sister’s oblivious husband.

Alan Rickman has never been afraid to experiment, a well-known supporter of independent films, new plays and human rights issues he has never shied away from the unknown, his attachment to My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a very good example. His last stage work was as the director of August Strindberg’s Creditors which was very well recieved during it’s run in London’s Donmar Warehouse and subsequently during it’s move to New York at Brooklyn Academy of Music Harvey Theatre. His last work as a stage actor was with Lindsay Duncan in Noel Coward’s Private Lives which was hugely successful and won him various accolades including a nomination for a Tony as Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. That was in 2002 and now a full eight years later he is back on stage, and supported by massive talent. His speciality is fiery intensity accentuated with stunning timing (both dramatic and comic). This is a man who can support a film or a play singlehandedly, and even despite quality (as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves so aptly proves), but what will happen when he is supported by such vast talent? My bet is on something extraordinary.

So, in conclusion: All the sings are pointing to a massive talent buffet.

ps. A small gift from our friends at Project Gutenberg: The script of John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen.

John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre

Facebook is indeed the source of good (event updates) and evil (another venue for stalking). Classic that it was a mixture of the two that lead to this week’s awesome discovery. This little Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alan-Rickman/31297046149

is a great little way to get your daily dose of Alan Rickman imagery, much appreciated on dreary days, and once in a while fantastic updates on his latest work (obviously a lot of it has to do with Harry Potter, more on that in later posts). But a couple of days ago some genius posted this:

http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/1299

The raw response was immediate and quite dramatic, fittingly, as I literally took a spit-take of coffee, shot up from my desk chair and was instantly flashing forward to sitting in the same room as Alan Rickman. A couple of minutes later I calmed down, after checking out the cheapest flights to Dublin, and read the rest of the cast list. The excitement grew in exponential terms.

John Gabriel Borkman’s wife, Mrs. Gunhild Borkman, will be played by none other than the fantastic Fiona Shaw who is probably best known in celluloid as playing Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter series (another HP link) but strangely I will always remember her as playing the sex-starved Headmistress in Three Men and a Little Lady from 1990, a film so 90s that it crosses the nostalgia barrier and is instantly annoying. However, she also did a fair turn as the impervious Mrs. Reed in Zeffirelli’s ill-fated 1996 version of Jane Eyre (another topic for later discussion). Solid case of a good character actress wasted on bit parts in films. However, and that is a big however, her turn on the British stage is nothing short of phenomenal. A RADA gratuate, like Alan Rickman, she has done just about everything from the strictly classical to the profoundly experimental. Her credits include Medea and Mother Courage, with ventures into the unknown as her one-woman show of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and even gender-bending as she has also played Richard II, a role that garnered her critical acclaim. No easy feat that. Her speciality is quiet fury and incredibly attention to details. So in short: The perfect candidate for the downtrodden house-wife.

Now. Let us turn to Lindsay Duncan. Another stunning character actress whose power has been largely ignored by celluloid, most recently she was in a bit part as Alice’s mother in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (another Alan Rickman film connection). However, her great film moment was actually in the TV series Rome where she played the betrayed Servillia who turned out to be the ultimate betrayer. Her scenes with Ciaran Hinds (still another HP connection) were a fantastic combination of tenderness and ultimately explosive fury after he brutally dumped her like cheap trash. But, again like Fiona Shaw, her stage work is unbelievably expansive and stunning. She has, it seems, worked with everyone and spans a great diversity of theatre work. David Mamet, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill and the works of Shakespeare are just the first that come to mind. However, I am going to focus on two productions: RSC’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Christopher Hampton and Private Lives by Noel Coward. Both extremely successful and both with Alan Rickman. In those two productions she was the femme fatal who was the great temptation of Alan Rickman’s characters. Her best work often happens when she gets her hands on characters who are incredibly sensual and work behind the scenes. So who better than to play the woman who was abandoned by John Gabriel Borkman? Might I also mention that she’s Mrs. Borkman’s sister…

Bizarrely, I haven’t gone into detail about the fact that Alan Rickman is in the lead role, that is worth a post in of itself.

ps. Did I mention that it was an Ibsen play?

Ethereal mash-up

… just in time for the night.

Frail beginnings.

After a night of nightmarish sleep I woke up blearily yet strangely excited. I had found it. I have always felt that names are great indicators, am also often harshly corrected, and this morning I found it: Nothing can surpass… And then I thought: “No. This is not right. Not right at all.” I knew where the line came from but I could not, for the life of me, remember the rest of the text. So, being the blasting information age I Googled it. Lo’ and behold there it was clear as the breaking daylight: poem 42 by e.e. cummings. This could not possibly be a coincidence, as will possibly become clear in later times. So the latter half of said poem became this blog’s beginning…