Saturday, 26 November 2022

Next Lobotomy Room Film Club: Bell, Book and Candle (1958) on 15 December 2022

 

On Thursday 15 December the Lobotomy Room film club returns with a festive presentation – with an occult twist! 

I don’t know if anyone but me considers ultra-stylish 1958 romantic comedy Bell, Book and Candle a “Christmas movie”. It stars ethereal Kim Novak as a sultry barefoot beatnik witch who casts a love spell on her neighbour James Stewart – even though he’s engaged to another woman! (Yes – this represents the second onscreen pairing of Stewart and Novak. Earlier the same year they memorably starred together in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo!). But the action of Bell, Book and Candle opens on Christmas Eve, the first music we hear as the credits end is “Jingle Bells”, and the film premiered in New York on Christmas day 1958! 

The supporting cast includes Jack Lemmon and Elsa Lanchester (yes – the Bride of Frankenstein). And for connoisseurs of chic fifties fashion and décor, Bell, Book and Candle is a dream! In short: it’s the perfect seasonal choice for our last film club of 2022! (If this selection elicits a sense of “déjà vu all over again” – we tried to show it in 2020 but cancelled due to lockdown. Then we scheduled it for Christmas 2021 but had to cancel when the Bamboo Lounge was reserved at the last minute for a private party. Hopefully the third attempt is the charm!). 


Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club devoted to cinematic perversity! Third Thursday night of every month downstairs at Fontaine’s bar in Dalston! Two drink minimum (inquire about the special offer £5 cocktail menu!). Numbers are limited, so reserving in advance via Fontaine’s website is essential. Alternatively, phone 07718000546 or email bookings@fontaines.bar to avoid disappointment! The film starts at 8:30 pm. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8:00 pm. To ensure everyone is seated and cocktails are ordered in time, please arrive by 8:15 pm at the latest.

Facebook event page. 


Sunday, 2 October 2022

Reflections on ... Blonde (2022)


/ Pictured: Marilyn Monroe photographed by Ben Ross, 1953 /

Quick thoughts on Blonde (2022), Andrew Dominik’s ultra-divisive speculative Marilyn Monroe Netflix biopic. Because you MUST have an opinion and post it, right? 

It’s not a routine biopic, thank God. Rather, it’s a nightmarish hallucinatory swoon through the degradation and suffering of Marilyn Monroe. In Dominik’s interpretation, Marilyn’s life was nothing but uninterrupted relentless torment and you are forced to wallow in it. And it’s almost three punishing hours. I persisted until the bitter end, but I was eventually just willing it to END! 

Objectively, though, this is virtuoso adventurous film-making with moments worthy of David Lynch (one friend has compared Blonde to Inland Empire, another to Mulholland Drive. Blonde definitely presents Marilyn as a doomed Laura Palmer figure). 

Lead actress Ana de Armas is astonishing. The recreations of Marilyn’s onscreen performances are eerie and spectacular.  De Armas’ finest moment: she’s a weeping mess but must perform. Seated at the make-up table she “summons” in the mirror the smiling, radiant Marilyn persona. It’s spine-tingling. But interestingly, for me the stand-out performance is from Julieanne Nicholson as her abusive mother. 

My favourite online review was via theehorsepussy on Tumblr: 

“I’m 2 hours into this Marilyn Monroe movie and I don't know if I can make it much further. There is still 45 more minutes of degradation to endure and I'm exhausted. What's the safe word, Daddy? The movie is real arty and all with its play on the whole iconography and the actress is surprisingly excellent. But if she doesn't have an Eraserhead baby by the end of this, I'm gonna be sorely disappointed.” 

Finally, I never want to see a “from-the-womb” camera POV again. Blonde is a must for aficionados of onscreen vomiting scenes. The Sex Symbol (1974) with Connie Stevens and Shelley Winters is a lot more fun (and less traumatic).


Thursday, 29 September 2022

Next Lobotomy Room Film Club: Dear Dead Delilah (1972) on 20 October 2022

 


October means Halloween (or “gay Christmas” for those in the know) – which means as per tradition, this month the Lobotomy Room film club is presenting a horror movie on 20 October. And boy have we dug up an oddity for you this time! 

Nasty, grubby, gruesome but perversely captivating, low-budget exploitation slasher flick Dear Dead Delilah (1972) conveys a genuinely bizarre vibe: think Southern Gothic horror as directed by William Castle, with verbose and meandering faux Tennessee Williams-like dialogue and scenery-chewing soap opera acting punctuated by blood-splattered decapitations. In other words, Dear Dead Delilah has something for everyone! 

Filmed on location in Nashville, Tennessee, it stars that reliably fierce ne plus ultra of Golden Age Hollywood character actresses Agnes Moorehead (Endora from TV’s Bewitched) in her final appearance in the titular role of Delilah Charles, a wealthy and shrewish dying Southern matriarch confined to a motorized wheelchair. (Moorehead herself was in declining health and would die two years later aged 73).  

Firmly in the post-What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? hagsploitation tradition (although updated for the splatter-hungry drive-in circuit), Delilah calculatingly references earlier films like Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) (in that one, Moorehead had a secondary role as Bette Davis’ housekeeper. Here, she gets to play the ageing Southern belle lead) and Strait-Jacket (1964) (they share the same premise of a mentally unstable axe murderess freshly-released from an insane asylum).  When we get a glimpse of Delilah ascending in her “personal elevator”, it can’t help but recall Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) or Olivia de Havilland in Lady in a Cage (1964)! 

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club devoted to the cult, the kitsch and the queer! Third Thursday night of every month downstairs at Fontaine’s bar in Dalston! Two drink minimum. Inquire about the special offer £5 cocktail menu! Numbers are limited, so reserving in advance via Fontaine’s website is essential. Alternatively, phone 07718000546 or email bookings@fontaines.bar to avoid disappointment! (Any difficulties reserving, contact me on here). The film starts at 8:30 pm. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8:00 pm. To ensure everyone is seated and cocktails are ordered in time, please arrive by 8:15 pm at the latest.

Facebook event page



Friday, 16 September 2022

Reflections on ... Aline (2020)

 

I was in Canada (for the first time since 2017) between 31 August – 7 September. On the Air Canada flight from London to Montreal I finally watched Aline, the notorious French-Canadian 2020 Céline Dion biopic. (Even though the film’s tone is insanely worshipful, this is an unauthorized biopic so “Céline Dion” is referred to as “Aline Dieu.” But the Quebecoise diva’s management apparently signed-off on the project because all her hits are used. The singing is provided by Victoria Sio but you’d swear it was via Dion herself). 

Anyway, Aline cleaves to every conventional rags-to-riches show biz cliche. One major obstacle for the film is how to smooth-over and make palatable Aline’s romance with Guy-Claude (Sylvain Marcel), the much older record producer / mentor who first meets her aged nine, guides her to stardom and then marries her once she reaches adulthood. Another considerable downside if – like me – you’re not a fan of Dion’s power ballads is suffering through the multiple loving recreations of Dion in concert. (Her version of Tina Turner’s "River Deep Mountain High" is a crime against music!). 

In the tradition of Barbra Streisand, French actress Valérie Lemercier stars, writes and directs. Aline is clearly a labour of love for Lemercier and you can’t fault her commitment. But she makes a truly nutty creative decision that ensures Aline some degree of Bad Movies We Love-style infamy. The 57-year-old Lemercier opts to portray Aline throughout all her life – including early scenes as a 9-year-old and 12-year-old. Watching a wide-eyed and “Facetuned” Lemercier nibbling on a cookie is so genuinely freaky it feels like an Amy Sedaris parody

In a final flourish of craziness, it ends with Aline delivering the most bombastic ballad imaginable direct to camera, insisting she's just an ordinary woman who loves her neighbour and just wants world peace. (It turns into a plea for humanity). In conclusion, Aline needs to be seen to be believed. Frustratingly, it’s still not available for streaming in the UK!




Friday, 9 September 2022

Reflections on ... The Gypsy Rose Lee Show

Oldshowbiz is the essential Tumblr account of comedian turned author and astute show business historian Kliph Nesteroff devoted to “Showbiz Imagery and Forgotten History.” He regularly exhumes a treasure trove of mid-twentieth century kitsch curiosities and obscurities – including THIS delectable high camp bonanza. 

Turns out brassy burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee hosted her own talk show in the sixties (The Gypsy Rose Lee Show, 754 episodes, aired 1965–1968). As the ads exclaimed, “Gypsy is Fresh! Delightful! Mad-cap! Cheery! Glittering! Irrepressible! Provocative! INCOMPARABLE!” The summary for this 1965 installment: “Singer-actress Eartha Kitt talks of men and love and singer-actress Lainie Kazan sings a tongue-in-cheek love song “Peel Me a Grape””.  Thrill as these three camp icons let their hair (wiglets?) down and dish some “girl talk” over coffee (although my boyfriend Pal suggests their coffee cups appear empty. There’s also a bottle of champagne on the table but it goes untouched). The episode captures intense, fiercely glamorous Kitt around the same time she portrayed Catwoman on TV’s Batman series, while Kazan purrs a sex kitten anthem with lyrics like “Peel me a grape / Crush me some ice / Skin me a peach / Save the fuzz for my pillow … Pop me a cork, French me a fry / Crack me a nut, bring a bowl full of bon-bons …” It culminates in the three women joining forces to belt-out Lee’s signature tune “Let Me Entertain You.” If you weren’t gay already, you will be after watching this!

Sunday, 28 August 2022

Reflections on ... The Sex Symbol (1974)


 Sure, excitement is buzzing over Blonde (Netflix’s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ speculative 1999 Marilyn Monroe biography drops on 23 September). But I doubt Blonde will be anywhere near as much fun as The Sex Symbol (1974)! 

Not streaming on any legit platform and never issued on DVD, this thinly veiled made-for-TV roman à clef / Monroe biopic starring kitschy sex kitten Connie Stevens surely qualifies as a “lost film”. But a serviceable bootleg print of The Sex Symbol is currently viewable onYouTube - and I’m ecstatic to confirm it’s every bit as gloriously tasteless, exploitative and deranged as I could have dreamed! 

/ Connie Stevens is Marilyn Monroe. I mean, Kelly Williams / 

“Agatha Murphy from golden Hollywood with the biggest scoop 1957 has yet brought us!” jeers a vicious show business television presenter (played by shameless hambone Shelley Winters as a hybrid of Old Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons). “Kelly Williams, one of the most sex-sational movie stars of our time, is through! She has been reporting late for work or not all on the Phoenix production of Will You Be Mine? claiming to be ill …” Williams, Murphy announces, has been fired by Nick Fortis (Nehemiah Persoff), head of Phoenix studios. “She fled to her Bel Air home and is reported to be secluded there near hysteria!” 

“Hysteria” is an understatement! Incognito in headscarf, dark sunglasses and white pantsuit, our ersatz Monroe Kelly Williams pushes past the mob of press and fans gathered outside her front door. Once safely installed inside her sumptuous purple boudoir, she sloshes vodka (or is it gin?) into a tumbler and watches Murphy’s broadcast. When Murphy crows, “It is such a shame that in less than ten years, a young fresh once-great beauty has disintegrated into a neurotic alcoholic mess!” it represents the last straw. Kelly hurls the liquor bottle at the TV screen. It shatters. “I finally found a way to shut that Aggie’s fat ugly mouth!” Kelly screams to Joy Hudson (Madlyn Rhue), her infinitely patient confidante and personal assistant. (Some viewers have discerned a Sapphic aspect to the women’s relationship.  Later we see Joy giving a nude Kelly a rubdown on massage table – just what’s in her job description? – and Joy always seems vaguely disapproving of Kelly’s gentleman callers). 

Even worse, just then Agatha Murphy’s people phone requesting an exclusive interview. “Why don’t you tell her I have sclerosis of the liver!” Kelly screeches to Joy. “Or I’m a dope fiend! That oughta give her a story for tomorrow!” 

“You can’t keep wallowing in self-pity!” long-suffering Joy explodes. “A dozen doctors have told you there’s nothing wrong with you physically except you keep stuffing yourself with barbiturates and booze!” Predictably, Kelly doesn’t respond well to Joy’s truth bomb. “Get out of here! Don’t you tell me how to run my life! You’re nothing but a vulture, like the rest of Hollywood! You leech!” 

Cut to the delayed opening credits. Over the Henry Mancini theme song, we see a procession of garish faux Warhol Pop Art portraits of various doomed Hollywood Babylon-type female stars: Marilyn Monroe. Jayne Mansfield. Veronica Lake. Carole Lombard. Betty Grable. Ann Sheridan. Jean Harlow. Maria Montez … and finally Kelly herself. 

By now it’s evident The Sex Symbol has been made “on the cheap”. Minimal effort is taken to conjure the forties or fifties time periods. As Kelly, Stevens always resembles what she was at the time: an early seventies Las Vegas headliner with a shaggy frosted blonde coiffure, frosted blue eye shadow, frosted pink lipstick and costumes (and wigs and hairpieces) straight out of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue. 


/ At one point, we see a flurry of "glamour shot" pin-ups of Kelly Williams, including these. Weirdly and confusingly, these exact photos would be recycled two years later to promote Stevens' subsequent film Scorchy (1976) / 

The Sex Symbol’s premise is that we’re witnessing Kelly’s dark night of the soul. In fact, the final night of her life. We’re presumably meant to find Kelly a tragic figure, but she’s insufferable. Her breathless baby doll voice quickly grates. Kelly rages, “Canned from one stinkin’ movie! Anyone would think I was dead!”, swills booze, pops fistfuls of pills, goes on crying jags and lashes out at her Spanish-speaking maid (“No! I’m not hungry!”). Much of the time she’s in bed shrieking into a pink telephone, like the worst-possible adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine. In terms of acting, Stevens’ guiding principle seems to be: “Patty Duke didn’t go nearly far enough as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls.” (Speaking of Dolls, Kelly is pitched as Neely and Jennifer North rolled into one).  And as my friend Kevin spotted, Stevens in full rampage in her bedroom anticipates Mink Stole’s tantrums as Peggy Gravel in John Waters’ Desperate Living (1977). 

In the present, Kelly frantically phones (harasses? Terrorizes?) the men in her life, which prompts flashbacks. The main victim is her psychiatrist. “I don’t mean to be rude calling you at home,” she begins. “I’m just beside myself. The studio has fired me. And that television witch says I’m finished! You heard me complaining often enough that my first husband claimed that I wasn’t very good in bed. Now I’m just a lush who’ll go with any man who asks!” Kelly then becomes gripped by paranoia the doctor might commit her into a mental institution – like what happened to her mother. “I’m not a nobody!” she bellows. “I’m a star! I made myself a star so no one could tell me what to do!” 

Our first flashback rewinds to World War II when pre-fame Kelly (still known as Emmaline Kelly) is toiling at an airplane factory. This may be unchivalrous to note, but at 36 (the age Monroe died) Stevens fails to convince in these scenes as a dewy wannabe starlet in her early twenties. Kelly’s photo has appeared in the newspaper captioned “Miss Blowtorch 1945” and Kelly vows to her soldier boyfriend Tommy that she’ll send the pic to modelling agencies and pursue her show biz dreams: “I got this thing burning in me. I just gotta be someone!” Unimpressed, Tommy implies she’ll wind up “auditioning in hotel rooms”. “I’m gonna be a star, Tom!” Kelly insists. “And I’ll do it standing up!” 

Kelly rapidly abandons this principle, because next time we see her she’s the protegee and mistress of hot shot agent Phil Bamberger (Milton Selzer).  Clearly modeled on Johnny Hyde (the talent agent who initially discovered and molded Monroe), kindly and significantly older Phil is a father figure, mentor, champion and lover. “There’s something pure about you,” Phil gushes. “It can’t be changed or violated.” Kelly (who describes herself as “an orphan kicked around from foster home to foster home”) confesses that one of her foster fathers did indeed violate her, then insists, “Cuddle me!” “Go slow, kitten!” Phil chuckles. “I’m an old man!” Worryingly, he also has a “bum ticker” – and promptly dies of a heart attack. Before that, Phil connects Kelly with cigar-chomping producer Jack P Harper (exploitation / horror director William Castle, who delivers one of the better performances). “Aggie Murphy started the rumour he died in bed with me!” Kelly wails to him. 

Harper dispatches Kelly on a cross country personal appearance publicity tour (“We’re selling a product here. A very lovely product, I must say!” In this sequence, Stevens wears a bouffant wig very similar to Monroe’s look in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give or the 1962 Bert Stern photo shoot - the sole time she’s styled to resemble Monroe). Kelly is a star-in-the-making! (The titles of her films - Midnight Madness. Will You Be Mine? Sex Bomb. Deep Purple. That Lady from Cincinnati – are hilariously generic). 

Back in the present-day, the doctor hangs up on Kelly. Affronted, she calls him right back. “Kelly, it’s after midnight!” “I pay you to be there to help me!” Kelly updates him that she’s she tracked down the phone number of her long-lost biological father via the county orphanage. Ignoring that bombshell, he counsels her, “As I’ve told you before, you shouldn’t ever take barbiturates if you’ve been drinking!” 

We watch Kelly’s first encounter with Agatha, when the gossip maven invites the newcomer over for tea. “This industry lives on gossip and scandal,” Agatha clucks. “You can expect to be called a promiscuous tramp. A nympho. And even worse!” Speaking of “promiscuous tramp”, Kelly is juggling two men: married Senator Grant O’Neal (Don Murray impersonating John F Kennedy) and retired football star Buck Wischnewski (William Smith), a Joe DiMaggio substitute. It’s Buck she marries, swayed perhaps when he says he does charity work for orphanages (the news makes Kelly tremulous: “I was an orphan!”). Their honeymoon, though, is a bust. Kelly is frigid. “Don’t you enjoy making love with me?” Buck inquires hesitantly. “Not very much, Buck. It isn’t your fault. It’s me. I just never … I mean, I’ll try harder next time. I’m sorry”. Kelly inexplicably consoles Buck by serenading him with the lullaby “Hush, Little Baby” in a little girl voice. Within minutes of announcing their marriage, Agatha proclaims their divorce. (It lasted 10 months). 

In the present, Kelly phones her manager Manny Fox (Jack Carter), waking him up. “Jeez, do you do know what time it is?” “What the hell do you mean do I know what time it is? I pay you ten percent to answer the phone any time!” Afterwards, Kelly mutters to herself, “Everybody in this whole stinkin’ town needs love. Nobody even knows the meaning of the word”  while smearing cold cream onto her face. 

At Agatha’s Christmas cocktail party, Fortis introduces Kelly to “America’s greatest living artist” Calvin Bernard (James Olson, the intellectual Arthur Miller equivalent). “You possess deep spiritual beauty,” Calvin rhapsodizes. “You’re a great beauty. A brilliant mind. A tremendous strength. All waiting for you to learn how to use them – and I intend to be your teacher!” He urges her to go to New York with him: “It’s the only civilized place to live in this country! Hollywood, California is a vulgar mirage, but New York … you’ll see!” Cut to the newspaper headline: “Sex Symbol to Wed Art Great.” In New York, Calvin pressures Kelly to abandon movies to study acting and perform Chekhov and Ibsen onstage. Emboldened, Kelly dares to complain about the quality of her latest script to Fortis. “She can’t act her way out of a paper bag!” Fortis thunders. “Pretty face. Good rear. Great chest. Period! She’s a piece of meat that I buy and sell just like the rest of them!” 

/ Shelley Winters, Connie Stevens and Nehemiah Persoff in The Sex Symbol (1974) /

Back in Hollywood, Kelly is invited to add her autograph and hand prints to the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. To Calvin’s horror, in front of the assembled press she “goes rogue” and also presses her boobs into the wet cement as observers whistle and cheer lasciviously! (“Oh, my goodness!” Agatha swoons. “What is she doing?”). 

This stunt spells the dissolution of their marriage. Watching Kelly wash down pills at bedtime with alcohol, Calvin asks, “When did you get on the tequila kick?” “In Mexico. On our honeymoon.” “That must’ve been your first husband. We’ve never been to Mexico together.” “That’s right. (Laughs). That’s funny!” Glugging it back, Kelly toasts (and mispronounces) “Salut!” “Your ear for foreign languages is as lacking as your sense of good taste!” Calvin mocks. 

The action is catching up to Kelly getting fired from Will You Be Mine? “What happened? Booze or an orgy?” the queen-y disapproving director snaps as Joy guides a late and hungover Kelly onto the set. In the make-up chair, a dazed Kelly starts applying cold cream to her face while staring at her reflection – and then smears it all over the mirror, obliterating herself. 

That night, Kelly reaches her father by phone – at 2 am! It’s not the reunion she hoped for. “You must have the wrong number, lady!” “Daddy? Daddy? Daaaaad?” she howls when he hangs up. When she calls him back later, he shouts, “Listen, you! It’s almost five in the morning!” Abandoned by every man in her life, the end is neigh for Kelly Williams … 

Perversely, some of the participants (like Winters and Murray) in this debacle knew the real Marilyn. Stevens’ shrill “I’m-a-victim” portrayal never evokes Marilyn (and she’s inept in the drunk scenes). The sequence where Kelly beguiles reporters with her ditzy blonde comedy schtick feels like a chapter from the Jayne Mansfield story rather than Monroe’s. Stevens does, though, recall Pia Zadora, Liz Renay, Carroll Baker in Harlow (1965), Joey Heatherton, Catherine O’Hara parodying Joey Heatherton as Lola Heatherton – and Connie Stevens herself! Startlingly, there’s a totally gratuitous tits-and-ass nude scene towards the end. (The Sex Symbol received a European cinematic release padded with bonus material, which is the version on YouTube. The original ABC cut was one hour and 14-minutes. This one is one hour and 47-minutes). In conclusion: The Sex Symbol is required viewing!

Monday, 18 July 2022

The Next Lobotomy Room Film Club: Passport to Shame (1958) on 28 July 2022

This month the Lobotomy Room film club (our motto: Bad Movies for Bad People) presents for your delectation tense, irresistibly trashy black-and-white British b-movie Passport to Shame (1958)! See the film described by Radio Times as “a cheap, tawdry and utterly fascinating piece of vintage sexploitation” that aims to expose the shame of London’s prostitution rings! As a bonus: Passport co-stars 26-year-old Diana Dors - British cinema’s reigning bad girl - at her pouting sex goddess zenith!  Thursday 28 July 2022 downstairs at the fabulous Fontaine’s bar in Dalston! (Note: the film club is normally third Thursday of every month - but this month it got bumped to the following Thursday! Don't get it twisted!). 

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the free monthly film club devoted to the cult, the kitsch and the queer! Third Thursday night of every month downstairs at Fontaine’s bar (Dalston's most unique nite spot)! Two drink minimum. Inquire about the special offer £5 cocktail menu! Numbers are limited, so reserving in advance via Fontaine’s website is essential.  Alternatively, phone 07718000546 or email bookings@fontaines.bar to avoid disappointment! (Any difficulties reserving, contact me on garusell1969@gmail.com). The film starts at 8:30 pm. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8:00 pm. To ensure everyone is seated and cocktails are ordered in time, please arrive by 8:15 pm at the latest.

Facebook event page. 


/ Diana Dors in Passport to Shame (1958) /


/ Passport to Shame was released in North American markets as Room 43

Read more here.