Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

PETER SELLERS

2011-05-29

[Picture of Sellers as Clouseau]Peter Sellers is a childhood hero of mine.  I cannot think of him without smiling.  Loads of people have said that Peter Sellers is the greatest comedian of all time. They just might be right.

However, a lot has been written about Sellers, but most of this is rubbish.  I say that, not because I know better; I never met him, and never knew him. I say that because most of what’s been written has been by people who also didn’t know him either. There is also a lot of looking back with today’s prevalent views and dominant ideology, and I don’t think you should do that; Sellers was a man of those times, not of today’s.

I can recall the way men were when I was younger and everyone smoked and drank. I can remember my father’s friends and I can still pick up the vibe.  Those were days when women dressed very differently from men.  The gender gap was massive compared with today.  There was a man’s world and Sellers lived and worked there.  Back then you could understand someone turning down open-heart surgery after having 13 heart attacks in a short space of time.

I do not believe he was depressed in the modern sense.  I think he was a very creative and humorous personality, and this would naturally lead to periods of writer’s block, and of boredom.  I don’t think we ought to make too much of any of that.  Humans have good times and bad times, I think we can forgive and forget most of the normal human errors and traits in favour of the aspects that matter — in Sellers’s case, what made him loved and famous was his creativity, his fun and his personality.

I was not really old enough for The Goon Show era, but I did appreciate these later when I heard them. I got into Milligan, and then Sellers made it big.

Dudley Moore sort of did the same thing later — a very specialised form of comedy, and a not-all-that-good-looking man making it big in the States.  Super models and yachts in the South of France.  Sellers blazed that trail.

Sellers and Moore are so valuable in that respect.  This cannot be underestimated; it shows that yes, it IS possible to live that life — to join the megarich Hollywood jetset — as long as you had genuine talent. And you do not have to sell-out and change!  And its not just Dud, Rowan Atkinson has gone into movies, and he’s a hit with Mr Bean (even in cartoon form), Russell Brand is just starting.

[Cartoon Inspector]For me, and so many others, Peter Sellers was definitely a role model.  I adored his out takes (I am pretty sure he single-handedly invented the out take genre); they showed the fun he had at work.  Hey, I wanted to have a job like that.  Imagine enjoying your work? Everyday would be such fun! He was such a student of human nature (all mimics are), too much is made of him saying he had no personality as he was always adopting a character or other — THAT was his personality, he interprets and reflects, and uses inventive ways to communicate his views and feelings. I can identify with that, sometimes I have to put on a silly voice to say something important, and I really don’t know why, other than it is how I somehow have to do it!

I simply remember Inspector Jacques Clouseau as one of the funniest characters I have ever seen.  I love all the Pink PanthersSteve Martin, sorry, but the role is Sellers’s.  These films always make me laugh – and without fail – and within a few minutes because they are so tightly written, gag after  gag of comedy genius.

There really has been nothing to match it since.  The nearest have been American self-referential cultural parodies, such as  Porky’s,  Animal House, Police Academy, Police Squad, and Airplane.  All very silly, very, very funny, but not ground-breakingly genre-inventing original.  Pink Panther came from nowhere, it set the bar.  Edwards and Sellers were not doing ironic humour, developing a TV show sketch or referring to modern media culture (such as The Simpsons and Family Guy do).

[Picture of Sellers as Dr Strangelove]The legacy is obvious — not just the cartoon character in the Pink Panther show, or the Goon Show’s influence on Monty Python and so forth. But the character of Dr Strangelove too. We couldn’t have ‘Allo ‘Allo with their rubbish French accents without Clouseau. Harry Enfield and so many of today’s British comedians refer back to Goons, Sellers and Python as a matter of course.  But Sellers was kinda cool too, everyone wanted to be around that type of guy because it was going to be good fun.

Peter Sellers’s biggest feat was being able to pull off being a really funny comedian, yet being a proper grown up man (he managed never to come across as a fool or an idiot). He managed to be one of the cool crowd, a jet-setter, with his own ratpack, and yet he stayed himself.  He often said he was always in character as there was no Peter Sellers character, but he never changed into an American fake or flake.  For a man with no character, he had bags of something that everyone could agree was “Peter Sellers”.

I read not that long ago that he was brought up with a strict Roman Catholic education, and because his mother was Jewish, he was sensitive to religious topics especially anti-Semitic or bigoted comments.  He was not of any religion, but it is very clear that he had a strong moral compass.  He shared that with his close friend in the Goons, Harry Secombe – who later presented a long-running Christian Hymn programme on British TV.

But it is telling that with his health crises, he never turned to religion, but to alternative therapies.

“Being There” was simply wonderful acting, and a triumph in that it showed the preposterousness of our ways without hamming up the comedy. Textbook example of exactly how this ought to be done.

Ultimately, you can look back over Sellers’s work knowing that it is safe — you can watch with your family without fear. No political subtexts, no cultural references to date it, no swearing or off-colour stuff.  It’s not Carry-On, it’s not Benny Hill slapstick, it’s just real life with the fun squeezed to the fore. It shows up the preposterousness and pomposity of our world.

That’ll do me. It’s timeless; we never learn.

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WOODY ALLEN

2008-01-21

Woody Allen is a big hero of mine. Not because he was nerdy or geeky; I didn’t relate to that. Neither did I associate with nervousness, agitation, Jewishness or pretty much anything else.

The plain truth is that I love Woody Allen because he is so alien and so different from me. I laugh because he surprises me all the time.  Stories can go anywhere (and do).

He’s the nearest thing to a person worthy of envy.  It is impossible for me to think of him as a bad person or as having bad intentions. His single function seems to me to be to enrich our lives, to make things better for us, to entertain.

I think we all ought to live in a better world, the type of world Woody Allen seems to be in.  He proves that it is possible.  If only we could change the world to be more like that. That is something tangible to aim for.

It has to be the product of North America; that is where there is a culture of patronage, of philanthropy.

He is so versatile and creative and his work is so successful by most  metrics — but there are always detractors of his work and of his life.

I grew up with they guy. He’s always been there, ironically like Bogart was for his character in Play It Again Sam. I have his books, and I always went to his movies each year — and that brought about a new dimension.

“80 percent of success is showing up”

— That Woody Allen line has kept me going through surprisingly difficult times in my life.

But how marvellous to be given carte blanche — to make a movie every year for the rest of your life, starring whomsoever you want, about whatever you like!  A blank cheque.

I loved the fact that he kept his films 80 mins long, with the same crew and black-and-white credits and titles.

The thing is that you could see the legend emerging before your  very eyes — you knew as it was happening — that this man will be of legendary, Dickensian/ Shakespearian stature.

There has always been a strong sense of history being made with Mr Allen.

With is considerable output, he has been free to experiment — and not all things have been successful in terms of living up to the expectation or in terms of financial success at the box office.  But no matter.

Let Woody try it, make the mistakes and indulge himself on our behalf.

Ah the wonder!

Apart from that, I like the fact that he plays clarinet in a small Jazz club every Monday night.  He seems very centred in his life — in New York, in his work.  Much more sensible and grounded than his on-screen persona.

I reckon he’d be a good laugh on a day-to-day basis; that kind of quirky mind cannot be closed down.  I don’t think that his “serious” work shows that he’s grown up or become dry and sober and boring.  I just think he has to keep challenging himself — I mean to say come on; who could make a funny film every single year?

His early comedies are legendary, and his letters and articles brilliant. If you do not know him, do yourself a favour and check out this genius immediately!

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Sadly, a lot of people I know think of Woody only in terms of him being a paedophile — which is pretty shocking.  I don’t know what is more shocking — that people think that or that the media can get away with that sort of thing.

Here’re that facts as I remember them — Woody Allen was married twice.  His first marriage was to a 16 year old when he was just 19.  They were both classically “too young”. Allen married again for a few years — and that marriage was finally wound-up in 1969.

He didn’t marry again — until Christmas Eve in Italy in 1997 when he married in Soon Yi, and they have been married ever since — that’s over a decade, and by far the longest relationship, and longest marriage Woody Allen has enjoyed.

The problem is his wife.  Soon Yi was adopted by Mia Farrow and André Previn, and raised as their child.  When Farrow and Previn split, she started a relationship with Woody Allen — and although the two never married, they had a son called Satchel and adopted two others.

Woody and Soon Yi fell in love and Woody split from Farrow.

Farrow was furious; and fair enough — she was spurned and scorned, this was her adopted daughter, her ex-lover and ex-boss.  He was father to one of her kids. She went to the courts for custody and she went to the media for backup.

Farrow got custody, but even though the courts threw out all the accusations, as a result of this bitterness and fuss, Woody Allen is often somehow thought-of as a paedophile, with the suggestion that he’d molested his own children, that he had abused his position as a father! Some people even think he married his stepdaughter, and that is such a shame!

I remember being furious at the press back then; it was very poorly reported, extremely unfair and biased.  But then I could see that it was somewhat “unsavoury” for a chap to take up with his lover’s adopted kid (whatever age and whatever the age difference), it may not be “nice”, but it wasn’t evil or illegal or abuse or anything like that.

However, as time has gone by, I have to say that they are a true couple – married for longer than usual in Hollywood, and that speaks for itself.  I don’t think Woody Allen takes marriage lightly — marrying the girl was a massive risk when you consider that Mia Farrow had all but ruined his reputation; with a costly divorce and no reputation, could he have recovered?  The only conclusion one can come to is that they really did just fall in love, and that they are a suitable and compatible couple.

A love that is strong enough to survive all that media hype, but also on a personal level as he’s lost his kid and she’s lost her adopted father André and mother Mia, and adopted siblings.

I personally learned a LOT from this tale — that it doesn’t matter what people think, that once you know your mind, stick to your guns.  Woody, to my knowledge, conducted himself with dignity throughout this long and drawn out saga, and I do not recall him slinging any mud back at Mia Farrow.

I don’t get a lot of modern life — Woody Allen’s situation is surely far from unique in this day and age.  I know of other odd arrangements, for example, take a woman who split from her man and taken the children. She then embarks on a relationship with another man.  If she then dies, is the new man responsible for these children? or does he hand them back to their original father(s)?

Hey, looks like material for a Woody Allen film… LOL!

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