Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sex Sells Barbasol

Today there is a tendency for people to think that sexual overtones are not to be found in any advertisements found before the Sixties. Nothing could be further from the truth, as sex was used to sell products long before the Sexual Revolution of the Fifties and Sixties. Indeed, a perfect example is a series of advertisements for Barbasol that appeared in the Forties.

Barbasol was invented in 1919 by Frank Shields, a professor at MIT. It was revolutionary at the time as the first shaving cream that did not have to be worked into a lather. Barbasol proved to be very successful and remained one of the best selling shaving creams for years. In the Forties they started a campaign that utilised the slogan, "For best results: shave with Barbasol." The ads were always accompanied by pin up quality pictures of scantily clad women, along with verbiage describing how a smooth, Barbasol face will help one pick up women. The message for the ads was pretty blatant: if you want to win beautiful, shapely women, shave with Barbasol!

Anyhow, here are a few of the "For best results...," Barbasol ads from the Forties.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Boat That Rocked

Even though rock 'n' roll had found its way to the United Kingdom in the late Fifties and by the early Sixties there were hundreds of home grown rock groups, BBC Radio played only about 30 minutes a day of rock and pop music in the early to mid-Sixties. If British subjects wanted to listen to rock and pop music, they had to tune into Radio Luxembourg. To fill the demand for rock and pop music among the British, in 1964 pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline, Radio Atlanta, and Radio London began broadcasting from ships off the British shore. Since the pirate radio station broadcast from ships located in international waters (Radio Caroline broadcast from an old Danish ferry anchored off the coast of Essex), they were in violation of no laws. The Golden Age for these pirate radio stations would effectively be brought to an end in 1967 by the passage of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, which banned unlicensed stations from broadcasting off the coast of the United Kingdom. The Boat That Rocked (2009) is the account of a fictional, pirate radio station (Radio Rock) during this time period. It was released in a shortened version in the United States as Pirate Radio.

The Boat That Rocked begins in 1966 and centres on seventeen year old Carl (Tom Sturridge), who is sent to stay with his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy) who runs the pirate radio station Radio Rock. The film then follows Carl and his experiences aboard the boat as well as those of the disc jockeys and staff of Radio Rock. While I admit I do not know what life was like aboard the pirate radio stations in the North Sea, The Boat That Rocks feels as if it is a genuine, if comedic portrayal of life aboard one. Life on Radio Rock is a mixture of excitement, frivolousness, recklessness, and desperation. The DJs range from the mildly eccentric to the egomaniacal to those who are hardly there at all (mentally, that is). The end result is that The Boat That Rocked is a very fun movie. It is episodic in its structure, with very little in the way of plot. Perhaps for this reason it takes some time to get started. It is also a bit uneven, with some episodes playing better than others. Regardless, it is enjoyable over all, and hits very few bad notes. My only real complaint with its plot is the climax, which seemed a little bit contrived to me.

Of course The Boat That Rocked is a period piece, which brings up the question of how well it captures the era. From what I know of mid-Sixties Britain, it does this very well. That having been said, the film does have several anachronisms in the form of songs appearing well before they were released. The example that comes to my mind is "Elenore" by The Turtles, which appears about a year and a half to two years before its release. In reality, "Elenore" was released in 1968, about half a year after the passage of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. For anyone with a working knowledge of the music of the era (or who was alive in that time and place), this can be somewhat jarring. Another problem I had with the music was not so much an anachronism as an omission. Radio Rock plays no Beatles songs, nor are there any references to them. From those who are old enough to remember, on both sides of the Atlantic, radio stations (licensed or otherwise) were constantly playing The Beatles in the Sixties. It was virtually impossible to escape them.

Another anachronism, or perhaps it is better described as an error, is that Radio Rock's signal seems to come in remarkably well on the mainland. From what I have read by those who listened to the pirate radio stations, it might take some fiddling with  the radio dial to get them to come in, and even then the signal might not be particularly strong. Of course, I guess it can be argued that director Richard Curtis may have taken some artistic liberties here--it wouldn't do to have people fiddling with radio dials for half the movie! Another problem is that I think the film may have oversimplified the political situation surrounding the pirate radio stations in the Sixties. That having been said, I am not sure one would want to sit through parliamentary debates  on the subject for half the film, which one would if it had been portrayed more accurately!

While The Boat That Rocked has its flaws, over all it is an enjoyable movie. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves the music and culture of Britain in the Sixties. Indeed, the film works so well that one sometimes forgets that Arthur Brown's "Fire!" wasn't released until 1968.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Winner R.I.P.

Michael Winner, who directed such films as The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, and Death Wish, died today at the age of 77.

Michael Winner was born in Hampstead, London on 30 October 1935. At age 14 he wrote an entertainment column for The Kensington Post. He studied law and economics at Cambridge. He wrote an entertainment column for Showgirl Glamour Revue starting in 1955. In 1957 he wrote and directed his first film, the short subject "The Square."For the next many years he would direct various short subject, including both documentaries and dramas. His first feature film was the mystery Out of the Shadow in 1961 (although at 61 minutes it barely qualified as a feature).  It was in 1962 that his career really started to gain momentum. That year he directed the feature film Play It Cool, a vehicle for British rocker Billy Fury.  Over the next few years he directed the family drama Old Mac (1961), the comedy Some Like It Cool (1962) the musical The Cool Mikado (1962), and the crime film West 11 (1963).

Arguably it was in 1964 that Michael Winner began the best phase in his career with The System, a drama starring Oliver Reed and centred around young men in a seaside village attempting to pick up young female tourists. The System would be followed by You Must Be Joking! (1965), The Jokers (1967), and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967), Hannibal Brooks (1969), and The Games (1970).  Like The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's'isname, and Hannibal Brooks starred Oliver Reed.

Hannibal Brooks attracted the attention of Hollywood and so Mr. Winner directed his first American film, the Western Lawman (1971). Over the next few years he directed The Nightcomers (1971), Chato's Land (1972), The Mechanic (1972), Scorpio (1973), and The Stone Killer (1973). His film Death Wish (1974) would prove to be an enormous success. Unfortunately, it marked the start of a decline in his career. Over the next several years Mr. Winner directed several films that would not do particularly well at the box office, beyond sequels to Death Wish, including Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), The Sentinel (1977), The Big Sleep (1978), Firepower (1979), Death Wish II (1982), The Wicked Lady (1983), Scream for Help (1984), and Death Wish 3 (1985). Appointment with Death (1988) saw him return to British film, and in the next several years he directed A Chorus of Disapproval (1989), Bullseye! (1990), Dirty Weekend (1993), and Parting Shots (1998).

Michael Winner was also a restaurant critic for London's Sunday Times.

I have to say that I think Michael Winner was a good director. I think he was at his peak while in Britain in the Sixties, directing such well crafted films as The System, The Jokers, I'll Never Forget What's 'Is Name, and Hannibal Brooks. Arguably, they were some of the best films to come out of Britain during the decade, as well as the best films Michael Winner ever made. Whatever else he did in his career, I suspect these are the films for which he will be remembered. While I do not think Hollywood and Michael Winner were a good fit, he did direct good films even after he went to work there.  Despite the reputation for its violence, Death Wish is a solid film over all, while The Nightcomers and Lawman were also fairly good films.  Michael Winner was certainly a director of some talent, and he deserves to be remembered for more than Death Wish  and its sequels.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Undying Love for Audrey Hepburn

It was twenty years ago today, on 20 January 1992, that Audrey Hepburn died from abdominal cancer. The date is significant to me not simply because Audrey Hepburn is one of the great icons of film. It is not even simply because she is one of my favourite actresses. Quite simply, it is significant to me because Audrey Hepburn was my first classic film crush.

It all began when I was around 8 years old. My Fair Lady  was on television that night. Being a typical lad of my generation and thinking that musicals were for girls, I did not particularly want to watch it. Fortunately for me, outside of Westerns, musicals were my father's favourite film genre, although I did not realise it at the time. My father convinced me that I should give My Fair Lady a chance, as I might like it. In the end, watching My Fair Lady would have two results. First, it convinced me that musicals are not just for girls and I have enjoyed the genre ever since. Second, I fell hopelessly and irrevocably in love with Audrey Hepburn. It is something from which I have never quite recovered.

In those days when we had neither cable television (we lived on a farm, where the cable companies did not reach) nor a VCR, it would be some time before I would see Breakfast at Tiffany's. When I did, however, my infatuation with Audrey would only grow deeper. This process would repeat itself when I saw Sabrina, Romany Holiday, Funny Face, and her other movies. While many boyhood crushes fade with time, I cannot say that my infatuation with Audrey Hepburn had ever quite done so. As an adult I actively sought out those movies starring Miss Hepburn that I had not seen. While I have not seen all of Audrey Hepburn's movies, I must say that I have seen most of them. And I own a good number of them on DVD.

Of course, Audrey Hepburn would not maintain a monopoly on my heart. Over time I would develop other classic film crushes, most notably one on Vivien Leigh the first time I saw Gone With the Wind (that crush also has never faded). But Audrey Hepburn has always maintained a special place in my heart as the first classic movie star on whom I ever had a crush. On 20 January 1992, then, I not only mourned the passing of a great actress, but also one of my first loves. When Audrey Hepburn died, part of my childhood went with her.