A moving and intimate short film portrait of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: artist, musician, pandrogyne, by Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma.
“Because Genesis and Jaye were so obsessed with each other, they wanted to literally become each other. Plastic surgery seemed like the best way to accomplish this goal, but once Jaye passed on, their grand project was left unfinished. Still, Genesis’s body tells the tale of a love story that transcends gender and the limits of human flesh.”
In 1995, your Strange Things editor began work on a project for the freshly-launched Television X, which was aspiring to be more than simply a soft porn channel. I convinced them that a documentary about ‘transgressive culture’ would be a good thing, especially as many of the leading lights in the field were going to be in London over the next few months. In the end, the higher-ups decided that such noble aspirations were foolish and returned to the T&A, but not before we shot this interview with Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch.
The pair were in London for NFT screenings of Kern’s films and the launch of his book New York Girls. This interview took place the day after the launch party, which is one reason why everyone is so tired! Also in attendance was photographer Doralba Picerno.
It was filmed by a TVX staffer on Hi-8, without any lighting - so was never going to be broadcast standard. It was several years before I was given the tape, and a few more after that before I could actually play it. But while the quality might be a bit murky, the content is, hopefully, worthwhile.I believe this was the first - and possibly only - time the pair were interviewed together.
Part two of the Lydia Lunch and Richard Kern interview, after the jump…
Kenneth Williams was born today in Bingfield Street, London, just off the Caledonian Road, on the 22nd of February 1926. According to his mother, he was born at two-thirty in the afternoon. She later claimed she remembered this, because it was early closing day and her husband had the afternoon off.
Kenneth’s father, Charlie, owned a hairdresser’s and, Kenneth’s mother, Louisa, worked there part-time. Charlie was known for being bluntly outspoken and highly sarcastic to his customers. “Henna dye on your head?” he’d ask incredulously. “Do you want to look like a tart?” Or, “Stick to your own color. You can’t improve on nature. You ought to know that. You’re old enough, and ugly enough.”
If Kenneth owed his refined looks to his mother, then, it was from his father that he inherited his sharp and acerbic tongue.
With only an older sister, Pat, born in 1923, it rested with Kenneth to take over the family business. But Kenneth aspired to things other than a shampoo and set. He had seized upon acting as a possible, future career. However, his father decried his son’s ambitions, acting, he said: “The women are all trollops and the men are nancies.“
While his sister Pat showed prowess as a swimmer and as an athlete, the rather camp Kenneth stuck to books and art.
“I settled for the books and gramophone and an awful lot of talking to myself. My exhibitionism concealed a sense of inadequacy. The real self was a vulnerable quivering thing, which I did not want to reveal; showing-off, affectation and role-playing I used like a hedgehog uses his spines. The facade was not to be penetrated. My parents respected this privacy. ‘He’s up in his room,’ they’d tell visitors. ‘He likes to be on his own,’ and I was undisturbed in my private world where artists were heroes and the imagination was king.”
One of his school reports ended with the word, “Quick to grasp the bones of a subject, slow to develop them.” The young, master Williams ‘”affected indifference” when his father read the report to him. “It sounded like a reluctant vulture on someone else’s prey.” It was at school that Williams developed a talent for mimicking his teachers, something that landed him in trouble more than once. It was the first inkling of Williams’s desperate desire to be liked, and of the possible outcome such mimicry would incur.
The headmaster warned Williams that such “mocking” may win him popularity but that it would also succeed in undermining his own authority. “A facetious front may win you popularity but you won’t be taken seriously when you want to be sincere. People won’t believe you and that will hurt you.” A surprisingly apt prediction.
Kenneth’s need for human companionship saw him attempt to steal away many of his sister’s schoolboy boyfriends. Infuriated by the number of youthful suitors that called for the blossoming Pat, Kenneth merrily told them that his sister was “meeting another bloke” and then, nobly, offered his own services as a date. Such brass-neck inevitably ended in tears.
The idea of a film had its germination during a house party given by Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles at Hyeres in 1929. Georges Auric, Cocteau’s lifelong musical collaborator, surprised his hosts by announcing that he wanted to compose the score for an animated cartoon. Cocteau was asked on the spot to provide a scenario. After some discussion, the Noailles agreed to give Cocteau a million francs to make a real film with a score by Auric. This became The Blood of a Poet, still one of the most widely viewed of all Cocteau’s screenworks. Cocteau described its disturbing series of voyeuristic tableaux as “a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body.”
Blood of a Poet can’t even be classed as the first Surrealist film, as Entr’acte had been made by René Clair, in 1924; The Seashell and the Clergyman (La Coquille et le clergyman) arguably the first true Surrealistic film, directed by Germaine Dulac, and written by Antonin Artaud, was made in 1928; and Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí had made two landmark Surrealist films, Un Chien Andalou (1928) and L’Âge d’Or (1930), by the time Cocteau was ready to put his thoughts on celluloid.
While there are undoubted references to Surrealist imagery (i.e. the lips on the artist’s hand), The Blood of a Poet shouldn’t be tied into any group or movement, for it is a film very much centered in Cocteau’s artistic sensibilities:
The Blood of a Poet like so much of what Cocteau created, abounds in autobiographical motifs: the macho Dargelos and the snowball fight, the opium smoker, the poet with his sexual stigmata, and the gunshots that, intentionally or not, echoed his father’s suicide long before.
Like all great artists, Cocteau sourced ideas from what was around him, what was new, to create his own distinct artistic vision. Of course, such magpie instincts left him open to the criticism of dilettantism, which was unfair, when considered against the range and diversity of his output as artist, writer, film-maker, designer, poet and man-about-town.
It was while out on the tiles at his favorite hot-spot “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” that Cocteau met the model, and later photographer, Lee Miller. Cocteau was casting for his film, and Miller breathlessly volunteered her services. It was her only film, and she would later describe the difficulties in making the film:
Feral Benga, the black jazz dancer who played the angel, sprained his ankle and became an angel with a limp. Cocteau put a star on Enrique Riviero’s back to cover an old bullet wound from the pistol of some cuckolded husband. The mattresses used to soundproof the studio walls were, unfortunately for the cast, infested with ravenous fleas and bedbugs. When the “bull” (really an ox) rented from an abattoir arrived at the studio with only one horn, Cocteau made a second one himself.
The film was financed by Charles, Vicomte de Noailles at a cost of one million francs. The Vicomte and his wife agreed to appear in the film, a scene where they talked amongst themselves and, on cue, began applauding. However, Cocteau intercut this footage with a another sequence, which ended in a suicide. Upon seeing the completed film, they refused to let Cocteau release it with their scene included. It was therefore re-shot with Barbette, the well-known female impersonator, and some extras.
Prior to its release, there was further controversy when it was rumored the film was filled with hidden symbolism:
Cocteau himself always denied the presence of hidden symbolism in the film, but word got about that it had anti-Christian undercurrents. This greatly distressed the Noailles. After the scandal caused the Viscount to be expelled from the elegant Jockey Club, and even brought threats of excommunication from the Church, they forbade Cocteau to allow public release of The Blood of a Poet for over a year.
It is often said that The Blood of a Poet is a surrealist film. However, surrealism did not exist when I first thought of it. the interest that it still arouses probably comes from its isolation from the works with which it is classified. I am speaking of the works of a minority that has opposed and unobtrusively governed the majority throughout the centuries. This minority has its antagonistic aspects. At the time of Le sang d’un poète, I was the only one of this minority to avoid the deliberate manifestations of the unconscious in favor of a kind of half-sleep through which I wandered as though in a labyrinth.
I applied myself only to the relief and to the details of the images that came forth from the great darkness of the human body. I adopted them then and there as the documentary scenes of another kingdom.
That is why this film, which has only one style, that, for example, of the bearing or the gestures of a man, presents many surfaces for its exegesis. Its exegeses were innumerable. If I were questioned about any one of them, I would have trouble in answering.
My relationship with the work was like that of a cabinetmaker who puts together the pieces of a table whom the spiritualists, who make the table move, consult.
The Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols. As far as the former are concerned, it initiates their mechanism, and by letting the mind relax, as in sleep, it lets memories entwine, move and express themselves freely. As for the latter, it rejects them, and substitutes acts, or allegories of these acts, that the spectator can make symbols of if he wishes.
Here’s something lush. The New York Dolls hit the road in this documentary film made by rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck. Filmed over three years, All Dolled Up captures The Dolls at their height in the early seventies, following them backstage and on tour, visiting such legendary venues as the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, the E-Club, Kenny’s Castaways and Max’s Kansas City. And there are also rousing versions of “Personality Crisis”, “Who Are the Mystery Girls”, “Vietnamese Baby”, amongst others. So, kick back your high heels and enjoy.
Update: For our readers in the USA, you can find All Dolled Up in serial form here.
Tura Satana died yesterday of heart failure, in Reno, Nevada. Satana had a brief but iconic career during which she was an exotic dancer, starred in the ground-breaking cult film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, dated Elvis Presley and became a cinematic icon.
Satana began her career as a dancer at 14, and was a victim of the brutality and sexism endemic at the time, as she explained in 2008:
“At the age of 15 I became an exotic dancer in the clubs of Calumet City, Illinois, because I had left home due to a bad situation stemming from when I was raped. Instead of the guys who raped me going to jail, I was sent to reform school because they paid the judge one thousand dollars to get off. So I went instead, supposedly because I enticed them to rape me.”
Satana went onto appear in numerous TV shows and films, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce, but it be for iconic role in Russ Meyer’s classic 1965 film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for which she will always be remembered. In the film, Satana played Varla, a sexy, voluptuous anti-hero, who proved:
“A woman, like my character, was able to show the male species that we’re not helpless and not entirely dependent on them. People picked up on the fact that women could be gorgeous and sexy and still kick ass.”
Satana also said:
“There are a great many similarities between Varla and myself. Varla was an outlet for some of the anger I felt growing up. She was also a statement to women all over the world that you can be a take-charge person and still be sexy. She also showed the women world-wide that women don’t have to be weak, simpering females. They just go after what they want and usually get it.”
John Waters once described Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! as:
”The best movie ever made, and possibly better than any movie that will ever be made.”
Born in Japan in either 1935 or 1938 (dates vary), Satana worked her way though a variety of minor TV roles, including appearing with Dean Martin in Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?, before being chosen by Meyer for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. Filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles, in temperatures often over hundred degrees, Meyer claimed that “She and I made the movie…” and that Satana was “very capable”:
“She knew how to handle herself. Don’t fuck with her! And if you fuck with her, do it well! She might turn on you!”
Satana went on to make The Astro Zombies (1969) and Ted V. Mikels’ The Doll Squad (1973), after which she was shot by a former lover. Satana then worked as a nurse, until her cult celebrity led to her return to acting this century with Sugar Boxx, Rob Zombie’s animation The Haunted World of El Superbeasto and Astro Zombies: M3 Cloned.
My dear, dear friend, you have no idea how much you will be missed…
In 2008, Satana talked to Zuri Zone about her cult status:
“I’m thrilled with the status Faster Pussycat has received when it was first released and at all the additional releases. I think the popularity that it has is because we gave them something that they really wanted to see. I also hope that it is because it shows that women don’t have to be weak and helpless to be sexy. We can be in control and still be feminine. I think that I remain a cult figure even after 40 years because the public like what they see on the screen. At least on the film, I will be forever ageless.”
Bonus clip from ‘Faster, Pussycat!’ after the jump…
Happy Birthday William Burroughs, born today in 1914, one of the most “culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century.”
Here’s Burroughs in the “informal documentary” The Commissioner of Sewers from 1991, where he discusses his writing, his life, his thoughts on art, literature, and the use of language as a weapon, his world view, as well as space and time travel, mummification, and politics.
With the current uprising in Egypt, and the recent events in Tunisia, it is timely to have a look at Videograms of a Revolution, which documents Romania’s popular revolution that led to the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Complied by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica from over 125 hours worth of amateur footage, news footage, and excerpts from a demonstrator-controlled Bucharest TV studio in late December 1989, their documentary tells the story of “how the mediated image not only records but engenders historic change.”
Happy Birthday John Belushi, who would have been 62 today. Born in 1949, Belushi’s big break came in 1971 when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Cast alongside Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest in National Lampoon’s Lemmings (which Richard Metzger wrote a great article on last year), Belushi’s natural comic talents shone. He moved to New York, with his girlfriend Judy Jacklin, and became a regular on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, working with such future Saturday Night Live performers Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. The rest we know.
It’ll be SNL and The Blues Brothers that Belushi will be remembered for best, and watching clips of his TV or film work now, only re-enforces what is so sad about his early demise.
He was the best comedian of his generation, and seventeen years after his untimely death, Bill Hicks is still greatly missed. It’s hard to believe he would have only been fifty this year, which is not old when compared to some of the aged reptiles who hold power in politics, the media and banking. But we were lucky to have had his talents for the short time we did.
Ninja Bachelor Party was written, co-directed and co-produced by Hicks and Kevin Booth, and shot over ten days in Texas for $5,000 in 1990, as a parody of martial arts movies. It isn’t his best work, and falls apart here and there, mainly because Hicks and co. allegedly didn’t take the filming too seriously. Even so, it does have enough to make it that little bit special. And no, there is no bachelor party.
Part deux of ‘Ninja Bachelor Party’ after the jump…
When the DTs were bad, the writer Malcolm Lowry had a trick to stop his shaking hands from spilling his drink. He would remove his tie, place it around the back of his neck, wrap either end around each hand, take hold of his glass, then pulled the tie with his free hand, which acted as a pulley, lifting the glass straight to his mouth. Lowry drank anything, hair tonic, rubbing alcohol, after shave, anything. But unlike most drunks, Lowry was a dedicated writer, a constant chronicler of his own life - everything was noted down as possible material for his novels, and generally it was. He couldn’t enter a bar or cantina without leaving with at least four pages of hand-written notes. That’s dedication.
In 1947, when Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano was published, he was hailed as the successor to James Joyce, and his novel hit the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. Move ten years on, to the English village of Ripe, Lowry is dead from an overdose, at the age of forty-eight, penniless, forgotten, with his books out of print. It was an ignoble death for such a brilliant writer, a death that has since been clouded with the suspicion he was murdered by his wife, Margerie Bonner, who may (it has been suggested) have force-fed him pills when drunk - for the pills he swallowed were prescribed to Margerie, and Lowry was unlikely to have taken his own life without writing copious notes of his final experience.
Lowry was born in Cheshire in 1909, and educated at The Leys School and St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. At school he discovered the two passions that were to last the whole of his life - writing and drinking. He wrote poetry and became friends with the American poet and novelist, Conrad Aiken, sending him letters about his drunken excesses. Aiken recognized Lowry’s natural talent and encouraged the teen literary tyro to write. But Lowry didn’t have the experience to write from, so between school and university, he enrolled as a deckhand and sailed to the far east. This provided him with the material for his first novel Ultramarine (1933), the story of a privileged young man, Dana Hilliot, and his need to be accepted, by his shipmates. The story takes place during 48-hours on board a tramp steamer, the Oedipus Tyrannus, “outward bound for Hell.” Like all of Lowry’s work it is semi-autobiographical, and contains the nascent themes he would develop in Under the Volcano (1947), Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid (1968) and October Ferry to Gabriola (1970).
Booze flows through Lowry’s writing. It’s a way of escape, as much as the sea voyages and plane journeys he wrote about. In Medieval times, a definition of possession included drunkenness, and Lowry was well aware of drink’s shamanic association:
“The agonies of the drunkard find their most accurate poetic analogue in the agonies of the mystic who has abused his powers.”
Few writers physically endured the excesses of alcohol or wrote about them so powerfully. While everyone knows Under the Volcano and its tale of the descent into Hell of alcoholic British consul, Geoffrey Firmin, during the Day of the Dead, in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac, it is his novella Lunar Caustic which gives the clearest insight into the cost of Lowry’s alcoholism. It’s the harrowing tale of Bill Plantagenet, a pianist and ex-sailor who, after a long night’s drinking, awakens to find himself in New York’s Bellevue psychiatric hospital surrounded by the dispossessed and insane.
The story is as much about Lowry as it is about the “collective and individual anxieties of the age,” and it was a story Lowry worked on repeatedly during his life. Early versions were published in literary magazines, and Lowry eventually spliced it together into a novella he thought too “gruesome” to publish in his lifetime, though he gave it a most interesting title:
Lunar Caustic as a sardonic and ambiguous title for a cauterizing work on madness has, | feel, a great deal of merit. But lunar caustic is also silver nitrate and used unsuccessfully to cure syphilis. And indeed as such it might stand symbolically for any imperfect or abortive cure, for example of alcoholism.
Like many drunks, Lowry teetered between self-pity and self-loathing, but the writer in him kept careful watch on his often disastrous and eventful life, and it is because of this his writing never indulged in the worst excesses of the bar-room drunk of being boring. Indeed, Lowry’s books are complex enough to deserve more than one reading, for as Schopenhauer once wrote:
“Any book that is at all important ought to be at once read through twice; ... on a second reading the connection of the different portions of the book will be better understood, and the beginning comprehended only when the end is known; and partly because we are not in the same temper and disposition on both readings.”
focuses on Malcolm Lowry, author of one of the major novels of the 20th century, Under the Volcano. But while Lowry fought a winning battle with words, he lost his battle with alcohol. Shot on location in four countries, the film combines photographs, readings by Richard Burton from the novel and interviews with the people who loved and hated Lowry, to create a vivid portrait of the man.
It does create a vivid portrait, but one under the shadow of Lowry’s last wife Marjorie Bonner, and it was not until after her death, in 1988, and the publication of Gordon Bowker’s top class biography, Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry, that a complete picture of Lowry came to fruition. Still it’s a damn fine documentary, and well worth the watch. As for an epitaph, I’ll leave that to the man himself:
Late of the Bowery
His prose was flowery
And often glowery
He lived, nightly, and drank daily
And died, playing the ukelele
I wonder if Franz Kafka ever saw Wladyslaw Starewicz’s 1912 animation The Cameraman’s Revenge before writing Metamorphosis in 1915? It’s an interesting thought, but if Starewicz’s use of insects (especially beetles) to animate a tale of adultery and revenge didn’t influence Metamorphosis then it has certainly influenced succeeding generations of animators like Jiri Trnka and Terry Gilliam.
Starewicz started his career in 1911, making puppet films with dead animals (the mind boggles), and from this he developed an array of techniques, which he successfully employed in The Cameraman’s Revenge, a landmark film that offered a template for future animators. So real was the film to audiences that some reviewers thought Starewicz had trained insects to “perform” for the camera. Even watching it today, The Cameraman’s Revenge is a delightful and surreal treat.
Starewicz made dozens of films throughout his fifty-plus year career, sometomes mixing live action, stop-motion and animation. His best known stop motion films are, The Night Before Christmas (1913), The Insects’ Christmas (1913), The Frogs Who Wanted a King (1923), The Voice of a Nightingale (1923), and The Tale of the Fox (1939).
During the Russian Revolution, Starewicz sided with the anti-Bolshevik White Army, and after Lenin’s successful rise to power, Starewicz moved to France, where he spent the rest of his life making his own distinct films.
O, he was loved, but did he know it? And if he did, would it have made any difference? For the great comic actor Kenneth Williams was torn by the need to be loved and the fear of intimacy that love brings. Should we be surprised? For he was shaped as much by his parents as he was by the times. A gay man in a country where homosexuality was illegal and punishable by gaol. His parents formed the two poles to his world: his father - morose and homophobic; his mother - theatrical and needy. Yet, Williams was to find a halfway-house while serving in the army:
I found that if I got up on the stage to entertain the troops I could make them shut up and look.
Through performance, Williams created a persona that protected him and allowed him to live vicariously. It was how he was. He made a career out of being Kenneth Williams. Over thirty films, innumerable TV and radio shows, he perfected his comedic style of camp double entendre. The innuendo suited Williams, for it allowed him to imply without having to commit; and commitment was something Williams was unable to do.
In one recently released letter to his two close friends, Clive Dennis and Tom Waine, Williams gave a moving declaration about his frustration at ever finding true love:
“All problems have to be solved eventually by ONESELF, and that’s where all your lovely John Donne stuff turns out to be a load of crap because, in the last analysis, A MAN IS AN ISLAND.”
We were only to find out how lonely Williams was when his diaries were published posthumously. He kept a diary for over 40 years, and as writer Christopher Stevens uncovered in his recent biography on the actor, Born Brilliant, Williams coded his diary entries with a colored pen - “[He] wrote in red pen when discussing his health and in blue when he had dramatic news, for example.” More interestingly Stevens noted how Williams’ writing style would changed dramatically through the forty-three volumes, depending on his mood, whether frustrated, boyish, intellectual or depressed. Always at the heart of his life was a failure to celebrate his sexuality and find happiness with someone.
“Living with someone always means a denial of self in SOME way and I suppose I have always known it was something I couldn’t accomplish. So I’ve always stayed on the sidelines. Getting the pleasure vicariously. It’s not wholly satisfactory, but then of course no lives are, and you know what I think about indiscriminate sex and promiscuous trade. I think it’s the beginning of a long, long road to despair.”
The Kenneth Williams Diaries haven’t been out of print since their first publication in 1993, and have added an extra dimension to a talent who is best remembered for his work on the franchise of Carry On films, a series that defined British comedy through the 50s and 60s. By the 70s, the humor was tired, and the audiences demanded more explicit material, something Williams was unable to give. He returned to TV and became a fixture of chat show programs, most notably Michael Parkinson’s excellent late-night series. On the chat show, Williams was able to entertain and captivate, but without a script, without a character to play, he mined his own life, his own history, himself and TV soon ate him up. As he wrote in his diary:
“I wonder if anyone will ever know the emptiness of my life.”
Here are a selection of highlights from Kenneth Williams’ best moments on the BBC chat-show Parkinson.
Kenneth Williams on Parkinson 02/17/1973 Part One, with Maggie Smith and poet Sir John Betjeman. Here Williams describes critics as the eunuchs in the harem. “They’re there everything night. They see it done every night, but they can’t do it themselves.”
More Kenneth Williams plus bonus radio and TV clips and ‘The Vag Trick’ after the jump…
I once met Ray Davies in a bar. I literally bumped into the great man just as I was exiting the toilet. Which isn’t the most auspicious place to meet a pop legend - between cubicle and urinal - or to announce an undying love for the man’s god-like talent. But ‘carpe diem’ and all that, so I did, and also said how brilliant I thought his film Return to Waterloo. Considering the amount of daft punters, myself included, he no doubt has to deal with on a daily basis, The Kinks’ genius was exceedingly gracious and kind.
I guess it was because I was rather middle-aged in my teens that unlike my contemporaries, who were out drinking, taking drugs and enjoying the folly of youth, I was at home the Friday night Return to Waterloo aired on telly. I’m glad I was, for Davies film was an incredible piece of TV, and unlike anything I’d seen before.
Looking back, it was a daring commission by the broadcasters, Channel 4, for here was a first time director’s film with no real plot, no dialog, just a series of vignettes tied together by a cycle of songs, about the day in the life of a Traveler (played by the superb Kenneth Colley) - his hopes, his fears, his desires, his failings, his loss. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But believe me, it was.
The film erupts out of a dark railway tunnel into a summer’s day. The Traveler wanders a railway station, through its crowds, then follows a girl with blonde hair, a newspaper headline with identi-kit picture - a rapist / murderer is on the loose. The Traveler follows the blonde (a memory of his missing daughter? a possible victim?) down into the underground, he passes a Busker (Davies, himself), and follows the girl along the platform. An underground train approaches. The Traveler’ nears the platform’s edge, its lights bleach out his face, and suddenly, as the day’s events rattle by, we return to the beginning.
It’s an opening that makes you sit up and take notice, as we are presented with several possible scenarios. Are we watching a murder mystery? A thriller about a missing daughter? A tale of sex/adultery/incest? It soon becomes clear these story-lines are unimportant, as what Davies is doing is something far more clever, subtle and personal.
Davies was thirty-nine when he made Return to Waterloo and it is filled with the disillusion of a man creeping towards his middle age and possible mid-life crisis. At the time, Davies was splitting up from his lover, Chrissie Hynde, with whom he had a daughter, and the film is tinged with a remorse for family life, for things that could have been, the pain of love lost. The question is how much does the Traveler represent Davies? How much is it a refraction of his own feelings?
Dear lonely heart, I wish things could be the way they were at the start…
But as we see, they can’t. Actions, or the lack of them, bring their own unexpected results.
Ken Colley has a list of credits from The Music Lovers, through Ripping Yarns to Star Wars and Return to Waterloo. He is one of cinema’s and television’s greatest character actors - a far better performer than most leading men. Colley does what many actors forget to do, he acts with his eyes. When you watch Colley, you know what his character is thinking, what he’s feeling, what is going through his mind.
The train journey is a metaphor for the Traveler’s life, in much the same way as Sylvia Plath once used it to describe her pregnancy:
Boarded the train there’s no getting off
Nearing Waterloo Station, the Traveler fantasizes of a way of “getting off” - by giving his younger self the keys to his future, here’s what will happen, kid, here’s what you can do.
Lime Street, Liverpool
Did you know that Waterloo Sunset was originally Liverpool Sunset? It was Davies’ paean to the city he loves:
“Liverpool is my favourite city, and the song was originally called Liverpool Sunset. I was inspired by Merseybeat. I’d fallen in love with Liverpool by that point. On every tour, that was the best reception. We played The Cavern, all those old places, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
“I had a load of mates in bands up there, and that sound – not The Beatles but Merseybeat – that was unbelievable. It used to inspire me every time.
“So I wrote Liverpool Sunset. Later it got changed to Waterloo Sunset, but there’s still that play on words with Waterloo.
“London was home, I’d grown up there, but I like to think I could be an adopted Scouser. My heart is definitely there.”
As we approach our destination, there’s a question: why did Davies call his film Return to Waterloo? What was he returning to?
Millions of people swarming like flies ‘round Waterloo Underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don’t need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise
This description from Waterloo Sunset does not fit with Britain in the 1980s. The sixties promise of “paradise” has been bartered and sold, by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Tory policies during that decade knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing. But let’s not get too political, for the next song is as much about a private heartbreak as it is about public disillusion.
Now all the lies are beginning to show,
And you’re not the country that I used to know.
I loved you once from my head to my toe,
But now my belief is shaken.
And all your ways are so untrue,
No one breaks promises the way that you do.
You guided me, I trusted you,
But now my illusion’s shaken.
We had expectations, now we’ve reached
As far as we can go.
Return to Waterloo reaches its destination, a brilliant and original film, which leaves one wondering why Davies hasn’t written and directed more for film and television?
A few years ago, a friend told me Ray Davies allegedly has this burning ambition to write a sitcom - now wouldn’t that be something?
Excerpts from Ray Davies’ ‘Return to Waterloo’ after the jump…
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