The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

THE SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT

~ Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie ~

Zbigniew Cybulski / Iga Cembrzyńska / Elżbieta Czyżewska / Gustaw Holoubek / Stanislaw Igar / Joanna Jędryka / Janusz Klosinski / Bogumił Kobiela / Barbara Krafftówna / Jadwiga Krawczyk / Slawomir Lindner / Krzysztof Litwin / Miroslawa Lombardo / Jan Machulski / Zdzislaw Maklakiewicz / Leon Niemczyk / Franciszek Pieczka / Beata Tyszkiewicz / Kazimierz Opalinski / Adam Pawlikowski / From the novel by  Jan Potocki  /  Screenplay by  Tadeusz Kwiatkowski / Soundtrack   Krzysztof Penderecki / Editor  Krystyna Komosińska  /  Directed by  Wojciech Has

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When Martin Scorsese took us spiralling down multiple layers of dreams within dreams with ‘Inception’, he knew from the outset that beneath the bottom-most strata, another had already trod that path.. and gone further still. It is perhaps rather apt that The Saragossa Manuscript has managed to remain such a well kept secret over the years. Even with the enthusiastic aid of such bigwig cinemeisters as Scorsese & F.F.Coppola, who battled to get a restoration and DVD transfer (on the somewhat amusingly titled ‘Mr Bongo’ films label), mentioning The Manuscript still generally get’s a shrug in response. Explaining the plot in a succinct sentence or two is pretty difficult, I’ll give you.. and in most of our minds black & white Polish cinema is bundled up with a certain breed of depressive foreign language film that frightens the hell out of English speaking audiences. Which is a crying shame, because in every way it is an equal to it’s contemporaries that sprung from France, Italy and Britain during the 1960’s New Wave. It manages to be both accurate period drama piece, and voice of the modern morality in state of flux. Sinister and dark.. but comical and ironic in equal turn. 

At the risk of adding to The Manuscript’s obscurity, I don’t feel right in unlocking it’s pages, or plundering it’s beautiful complexities. Like a much loved holiday spot, or a favourite painting in a gallery.. some pleasures need be discovered alone. I’ll just give a nudge in the right direction. Quickly, the great beauty Elżbieta Czyżewska has already started her story..

‘Frasquita told her story to Busqueros, he told it to Lopez Suarez, who in turn told it to Señor Avadoro. It’s enough to drive a man crazy.’


‘All these adventures begin simply. The listener thinks it will soon be over, but one story creates another, and then another still.’


‘Something like quotients, which can be divided infinitely.’


‘I’m a Captain of the guard, not a philosopher.

Your maths is just dead numbers.’


‘Señor, this zero, plus one, minus one, gave Archimedes and Newton power equal to the Gods.’


‘Very noble men, but what’s the point of it?’


‘We are like blind men lost in the streets of a big city. The streets lead to a goal, but we often return to the same places to get to where we want to be.. I can see a few little streets here, which, as it is now, are going nowhere. New combinations have to be arranged, then the whole will become clear.. because, one cannot invent something that another cannot solve.’


‘I no longer follow.’


‘Then, let’s keep listening..’


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The Long Good Friday (1980)

The Long Good Friday

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY

Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Paul Freeman, Leo Dolan, P.H. Moriarty, Kevin McNally, Patti Love, Bryan Marshall, Pierce Brosnan, Daragh O’Malley / Screenplay  Barrie Keeffe / Soundtrack  Francis Monkman / Cinematography  Phil Meheux / Editor  Mike Taylor / Director John Mackenzie

Who lit the fuse that tore Harold’s world apart?

 

British

To the uninitiated The Long Good Friday is probably best described as the British Scarface, though it pre-empted the Brian De Palma remake by three years, and Bob Hoskins’ crime boss Harold, is quite a different beast. A pitbull gangster with vision, morality, elequence even (albeit laced with a colourful acid tongue), in curious contrast to the ugly violence that is prone to erupt if left unchecked. A little more of Tony Soprano than Tony Montana perhaps.. Harold seeks to launch London into the 21st Century, to take it’s place as ‘Europe’s Capital’, but his old-school moralities ultimately leave him ill-equipped to cope with that very future. Hoskins gives us a real sense of despair, of frustration and loss, as his world crumbles. All the more enhanced by the passage of the last three decades since Long Good Friday’s release. Gone are the symbols of Harold’s Britain ; the iconic Concorde (that superbly echoes his first white suited entrance) consigned to the rubbish heap, a dinosaur ; the death nell of the old Docklands, replaced with souless glass, whilst the lifeblood of the old East-end runs dry ; decency, honesty, loyalty.. fading (bloody hell, this is all getting a bit maudlin).

Entrance

‘I’m not a politician, I’m a business man, with a sense of history, and I’m also a Londoner. and today is a day of great historical significance for London. Our country isn’t an Island anymore, we’re a leading European state, and I believe that this is the decade when London will become Europe’s capital, having cleared away the outdated, we’ve got mile after mile and acre after acre of land for our future prosperity, no other city in the world has got right in it’s centre such an opportunity for profitable progress. so it’s important that the right people mastermind the new London, proven people, with nerve, knowledge and expertise..and that, ladies and gentlemen is why you are all here today. All trusted friends, and why Charlie and Tony are here today, our American friends, to endorse the global nature of this venture. Let’s hear it ladies and gentlemen..

 ..hands across the ocean.’

Bob Hoskins

Loss of old Values

For some British actors access to America is a decidedly positive move. Anthony Hopkins has carved out a rather comfortable niche for himself in Hollywood, as has Michael Caine. Willowy beauty Kate Beckinsale’s career has positively flourished, as has Kate Winslet’s. Samantha Morton manages to field quality Hollywood parts, whilst still keeping one foot in British Indie cinema.. but Bob Hoskins? Poor old Bob may have raked in the dollars over the past few decades, but he’s made some awful tat. Popular tat admittedly, but we really expected more somehow didn’t we? Things were going so well too. Dennis Potter’s iconic ‘Pennies from Heaven’, ‘Long Good Friday’, Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, Neil Jordan’s gutsy ‘Mona Lisa’.. hmm, what’s next? ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘Mermaids’, ‘Hook’, ‘Super Mario Brothers’..What the hell happened?  Bob replies: ‘ Well.. it was the money wasn’t it..’

Vendetta

‘The Yanks love snobbery, they really think they’ve arrived in England if the Upper Classes treat ’em like shit.’

Helen Mirren

Confrontation

Shakespearean treachery

I hear an American remake is being considered. Initially it makes some species of sense, after the popularity abroad of Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock Stock’ and ‘Snatch’  films, and ‘The Italian Job’  remake (don’t get me started on that one!) but given that the heart of this film is the anti-American rant in the penultimate scene, you’d think that might prove a fairly fundamental problem. Akin to the mindboggling decision to dub the British comedy show ‘Allo Allo’ into French & German.. a series that mainly consists of comical piss takes of French & German accents (reckon something gets lost in translation?). They’ll probably stick Michael Caine in there somewhere, dig up some old Civil War resentment perhaps.. or have a pop at the Canadians. On the surface British and American Gangster films would seem to be interchangable, dealing with similar issues and sharing similar moralistic grounds, but they really are chalk and cheese. All the more evident when the two collide, both here and in Richie’s Gangster send ups. The two exist happily in their own right, but never the twain shall meet to any convincing extent. Scorsese’s ‘Departed’ is the closest marriage of the two styles I can think of, but only in a superficial visual sense. In just the same way that Hollywood can’t match the realism of a British Gangster film like Sexy Beast, so too Britain can’t hope to imitate the pure cinematic experience of The Godfather.

Speech 1

‘I tell you something, I’m glad I found out in time what a partnership with a pair of wankers like you would’ve been like! A sleeping partner’s one thing, but you’re in a fucking coma! No wonder you’ve got an energy crisis your side of the water.. but us British, we’re used to a bit more vitality, imagination, touch of the Dunkirk spirit, know what I mean? The days when Yanks could come over ‘ere and buy up Nelson’s Column, an ‘arley street surgeon and a couple’a Windmill Girls are definately over! What I’m looking for..is someone who can contribute to what England has given to the world: Culture, sophistication, genius.. a little bit more than an hotdog, know what I mean? We’re in the Common Market now, and my new deal is with Europe, I’m going into business with a German organisation. Yeah! The Krauts! They’ve got ambition, knowhow, and they don’t lose their bottle. Look at you..The Mafia? I’ve shit ’em.’

Speech 2

speech 3

BOB HOSKINS’ GUARDIAN INTERVIEW

Friday 3rd August, 2007

Bob Hoskins says he’s still waiting to be found out. He hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing in this business. “I feel I’m the wrong name on the right list,” he says. “Keep going, keep prodding, and nobody’ll notice. When I told my relations I’m gonna be an actor, they said: ‘Don’t be fucking daft. Forget it! You’ve got to be kidding, aintcha?'” He’s got a point. A bullfrog of a man with a boxer’s nose and a right gob on him, he’s hardly your conventional lead. But he’s been working for 40 years now, and in that time has created some of the most memorable characters in television and film – Arthur Parker, the frustrated songsheet salesman in Pennies from Heaven, Harold Shand, the psychotic gangster in The Long Good Friday, lovelorn George in Mona Lisa, the eye-popping private eye Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He does hard bastard and soft bastard equally well. In his new film, Sparkle, he is playing one of his touching – and touched – softies.

Not surprisingly, acting wasn’t his first job – it came along by accident one evening in London in the late 1960s. Hoskins turned up with his mate for an audition at the old trade union theatre, the Unity. He was just there for a drink, it was his friend who wanted the part. Right, next, said the casting director, pointing to Hoskins. Before he knew it, he found himself on the stage reading from the script of a play about a young thug. He got the lead, and that was that. He didn’t have any training or theory behind him, but he was good at pretending to be other people. “There’s two things I love about this business. One’s acting and the other one’s getting paid for it. The rest of it is a mystery to me. But I ain’t got the faintest idea what the fuck is goin’ on, you know. I’ve read Stanislavsky, and I thought, well, this is obvious.” Ignorant sod that I am, I ask if he means the Method, as thesps like to call it. “Nah! Nah, that’s Lee Strasberg, that’s bollocks! Like how to look busy. It’s just looking busy, impressing the boss. That’s bollocks, going through all this cobblers. Living it out and all that. Bollocks. Total cobblers!”

I think I know what you mean, I tell him – for example, with The Long Good Friday it’s pointless killing a few people just to get into character. “Exactly!” he says. “I’m out the door in a flash. Gone. Let’s face it, some of the characters I’ve played you can’t take home to the wife and kids.” It was in the late 1970s and early 80s that he produced his most outstanding work, partly because he was more fussy with his choices, and partly because Britain was rich in writers and directors. On television, Dennis Potter mingled genres and explored the subconscious in ways that hadn’t been seen before. Was he aware that Pennies from Heaven was special when he was making it? “Nah. The thing was at the time the BBC were quite frightened of it. Whasisname, Piers Haggard, the director, asked me to take me clothes off – I come home, take me clothes off, put me pyjamas on and go to bed, about as sexy as a bag of Brussels sprouts. But he says, ‘I want full frontal.’ Well, Bill Cotton [then controller of BBC1] went fuckin’ bananas. ‘We can’t have that,’ he says, ‘If you show Hoskins’ cock on the television we will get letters of complaint.’ Dennis, without a beat, says, ‘No Bill, you’ll get letters of sympathy.’ Hahahahaha!” Hoskins roars.

What happened to the golden age of TV drama? “Gawd knows. It’s all fucking live television, isn’t it? It’s all bollocks. Living television is the cheapest way to make TV and the cheaper they make it, the more money for the executives.”

Hoskins is now 64, but has no plans to retire. The thing is, he says, an actor can be in an iron lung and you can still give him a part. And now, with his age and status, he’s enjoying himself more than ever. “You reach a point where the cameo is the governor. You go in there for a couple of weeks, you’re paid a lot of money, everybody treats you like the crown jewels, you’re in and out, and if the film’s a load of shit, nobody blames you, y’knowwhadimean. It’s wonderful.” Maybe for you Bob, I say, but not always so wonderful for us. The cameos can frustrate the viewer, and unbalance a film. In Sparkle, for example, you wish he was in the film longer. He laughs off the criticism. “Always leave ’em wanting more, son!” Hoskins has always liked his money. He is probably better known these days for the irritating British Telecom campaign than for his movies. For years, people stopped him in the street and told him: “It’s good to talk.” He was paid a huge amount by BT, but was it worth it? “You’re joking, intcha? I couldn’t believe it. It was un-be-lie-va-ble.” So little work, so much money. Of course, he’d do it again if he was asked. “The worst thing that happened to me was Madonna getting stalked by a fella called Bob Hoskins, and I had fuckin’ hundreds of people come up to me, and say ‘It’s good to stalk.’ Bastards! Hahaha!”

He accepts there have been flops, and films he’s detested, but that’s the nature of the game. “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”

Finale