JABBERWOCKY (1977)

JABBERWOCKY

Michael Palin / Max Wall / Deborah Fallender / John LeMesurier / Harry H. Corbett / Warren Mitchell / Annette Badland / Bernard Bresslaw / John Bird / Rodney Bewes / Neil Innes / Terry Jones / Brian Glover /  Art Direction  Millie Burns  /  Costume Design  Charles Knode & Hazel Pethig  /  Cinematography  Terry Bedford  /  Production  Julian Doyle, John Goldstone & Sanford Lieberson  /  Screenplay  Charles Alverson & Terry Gilliam  /  Director  Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky has never really known what it was supposed to be, which considering it was inspired by a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem (from ‘Alice, through the looking glass’) is all quite suitable. That said, it is certainly the most dysfunctional of all Gilliam’s forays into cinema, which is quite an achievement in itself, given the number of capsized projects to fall by the wayside, or  else battered by harsh studio edits. *Von Stroheim shakes a small fist at the heavens, and mutters something unintelligible in German..*

Prior to his present incarnation as Director and all round risk-taking auteur, Terry Gilliam was of course the American, animation guy in that bunch of mighty comic surrealists Monty Python. The Python collective mind (along with Mr.Gilliam comprising of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones & Eric Idle), was never truly versed in the poetic cinematic eyes and ears of the business, contented to stick to the tried and tested loose structure of linked sketches when tackling their big screen appearances. Both The Life of Brian & The Holy Grail are largely stitched together gags, that either rely upon one unifying character bounding from one scene to the next (Chapman tending to take to the lead) and an even coating of contextual or atmospheric detail, generally the contribution of Gilliam’s fevered imagination and madcap visual referencing.

To stride out from the comfy confines of Python was never going to be a simple task, especially when it necessitated borrowing fellow Pythons Palin & Terry Jones to keep the backers happy. Killing off Jones in the opening sequence helped provide a little distance, and silence any unwanted directorial influence (Jones not only Directed ‘Brian’, but also took the lion share of the Directors chair on ‘Holy Grail’).  Unfortunately Jabberwocky winds up being far closer to ‘Life of Brian’, than I’m sure Gilliam intended, even regurgitating the beggar scene, albeit with a wry twist (Palin looking on in abject horror at a beggar reduced to chopping off his own feet in improve public sympathies).

Where Jabberwocky truly excels is in it’s extraordinary ensemble cast of comedy royalty. Harry H. Corbett (Steptoe & Son) gives one of his last great performances, dodging the wrath of ‘Carry-on’ giant Bernard Bresslaw ,  Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett) cooks up a delicious role as Mr.Fishfinger, whilst John LeMesurier (Dad’s Army) plays the hilariously camp Lord Chancellor to Max Wall’s blissfully, unstately King Bruno the Questionable.  Curiously what hinders ‘Jabberwocky’ is it’s preoccupation with cramming as much humour in as possible, but at the same time it is that humour which ultimately allows the Period setting to work quite as well as it does. Without the humour we would be left with a series of beautiful visuals, some nice costumes, and very little else.

Every other Gilliam project is characterized by it’s complexity. Jabberwocky is the complete opposite.. which in a way makes it quite fascinating, showing a bare-bones Gilliam, caught with his trouser’s down. er.. that sounds worse than intendid.

 

In purely cinematic terms, a certain distance, or modern standpoint is required, from which perspective we can observe and remain afloat throughout a realised piece, without losing our way and stewing in the mix. Admittedly we have Michael Palin’s central character attempting to impart a ‘Modern System of Economics’ upon the Mediaeval marketplace, as a sort of pre-cursor to the coming of the ‘so-called’ Age of Enlightenment and Modernity (to be so beautifully explored and despaired at in ‘Baron Munchausen’).. but the wonderful epiphany of equating the past with dreams, and blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality, is yet to take hold. This revelation finds it’s birth in Gilliam’s forthcoming ‘Time Bandits’, before taking full, glorious flight in his Walter Mitty nightmare ‘Brazil’. There is though, something oh, so very attractive about standing on the brink of greatness, and enjoying the birth of a new creative genius in the making. Jabberwocky is fun, crude and chock full of dangerous risks. If only all first directorial projects were as full of freshness and infectious vitality. If you peer over the cartoon horizon at the films end, you can just about make out the glorious shape of things to come.. 

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;

Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘The Jabberwocky’ from ‘Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There’ (1872)

 by Lewis Carroll – Illustration by John Tenniel

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The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

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THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE

The need for speed..

Marianne Faithfull / Alain Delon / Marius Goring / Roger Mutton / Catherine Jourdan / Jean Leduc /  From the Novel by Andre Pieyre de Mandiarges / Screenplay Ronald Duncan & Jack Cardiff / Art Direction Jean d’Eaubonne & Russell Hagg / Music Les Reed / Editing Peter Musgrave / Cinematography Jack Cardiff & Rene Guissart Jr. / Producer Sasha Kamenka, Ronan O’Rahilly & William Sassoon / Director Jack Cardiff

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Shot in just two short weeks, Jack Cardiff managed to take a relatively unknown French erotic novel (at least unknown outside of France), and weave it into a Stream of Conciousness motorcycle diary for the 60’s Beat generation. It’s not the slickest of productions, and much of the supporting dialogue was fairly crudely dubbed over the material shot in Europe, but somehow Cardiff pulled off something quite unique and dream-like. The sexual intensity is palapable in every scene, but quite confounded the British censors, who couldn’t quite see where and what to cut among the giddy solarised dream sequences, and fast paced editing. The American release was a quite different story, the late 60’s censorship drive Stateside had a field day with it’s scissors, and cut scenes left, right and centre. To polish of the hatchet  job, some silly sod changed the title to ‘Naked Under Leather’, which I’m sure confused the viewer no end.. a porno movie, with the sex cut out.

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‘Skin.. it’s like skin. I’m like an animal..’

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‘..not all the dead are buried. Why don’t they rebel? At least the young ones, rebellion’s the only thing that keeps you alive! ‘

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‘Timid little mice, caught in traps.. I’m caught, I run round my little cage..’

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‘What do you teach, Daniel? Philosophy? Psychology? Anthropology?I know,  you’re a tutor in pornography!’

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‘..and the bike waiting, almost champing at the bit, no much more virile than a horse, and fast, fast, fast! The first time I passed this vert spot it was already so hot that the handlebars were burning through my gloves. I was doing a hundred and thirty.’

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‘Rise quickly.. burn!’

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‘So warm.. even this early. Like thousands of fingers.. I’m a bit like a leaf myself. Green.. not in the usual sense, very supple and young, bendable, just out of the bud.. and there the similarity ends.

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‘It was a combination suit of black leather, all very shiny and lined with white fur, which closed right up to the neck and fastened there and at the wrists and ankles with straps and buckles. Rebecca had opened it wide (whick made it look like the hide of some huge beast newly flayed), then, legs first, she had climbed into it naked, save for the little codpiece of transparent nylon over the triangle of her short hairs, and pulling upwards on the little tongue of the zip-fastener she had closed this dark sheath over her naturally brown body. ‘Nothing is as soft as that.’ she had said to herself (somewhat naively for it was only rabbit fur and she hadn’t had the chance of feeling either sable or mink) while the blood rose to her head because of the heat and the soft tickling  she felt over the enire stretch of her skin. ‘My body is like a violin in a quilted box.’ ..

..making use of the footplate, Rebecca had got astride the Harley-Davidson, she had sat down on the broad saddle whose well-sprung feel between her thighs she contemplated with satisfaction, happy too that there was only room for one on it, for she had obstinately refused to have a pillion fixed on behind. With her right hand she had turned the throttle gently while with her left she retarded the spark slightly and allowing the little advance-retard lever to slip back under her fingers. The heavy motorcycle had started softly into motion..’

THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE

Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (1963)

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STILLS & PRODUCTION

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-POST DEDICATED TO THE SAD PASSING OF DIRECTOR JACK CARDIFF (1914-2009)-