‘O Lucky Man’ or — Bean Flick?

‘O Lucky Man’ or — Bean Flick?

So the story of ‘O Lucky Man’ concerns Mick Travis (played by Malcolm McDowell), a coffee salesman for the Imperial Coffee Company, who travels to the North East of England and then Scotland. During his odyssey he encounters various characters and institutions all seemingly representing various aspects of modern day, British capitalist society. These encounters challenge his principles although sticking to those principles results in his decline in society. Yet maybe there is a light at the end of this tunnel; some star to guide him or possibly even to manifest into? Will he get lucky?

Yet I think the real story of ‘O Lucky Man’ is this: Malcolm McDowell becomes super famous after ‘If…’ (1968) and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971). This success goes to his young head and, therefore, he starts thinking his life is worthy of being turned into a feature film. Lindsay Anderson, somewhat besotted and enamoured by the young star he helped create and flattered by the thought of appearing as a god-like figure in his own movie, agrees to make it. However, it soon becomes apparent that McDowell’s early life as a coffee salesman lacks any real intellectual weight so another writer is brought in to add extra layers of political and social satire whilst Anderson decides to use his bag of tricks he’s picked up from the Nouvelle Vague and European art-house cinema to add artistic cache, even though he originally wanted to make a film about Alan Price but hey, why not just the band in as some sort of Greek chorus and, hey presto, before anyone knows it they have a pretentious three hour mess on their hands.

That’s the big problem with ‘O Lucky Man’ and it comes right at the end when it declares — “Based on an idea by Malcolm McDowell”. Then everything — the self-indulgence, the self-congratulatory air, the empty political posturing — makes sense. It feels very much like nothing more than an idea stretched out to a three hour run-time with everything else just bolted on. Rather than an actual Pilgrim’s Progress ‘O Lucky Man’ is more an assembly of various encounters, all discreet units, that could easily all be rearranged in order with no discernable impact on how the film plays out overall. And that’s a problem.

At its best the film functions similarly, though not as effectively, as Roy Andersson’s stunning ‘Songs From The Second Floor’ (2000) as treacle-paced, stylised surrealism melds with social and municipal observation and critique. Yet Andersson knows how to keep things succinct and fresh whilst Anderson’s film feels lumbering and laboured. Anderson is also displaying his influences heavily here with political texts smashed hard onto the screen in the style of Godard and the dropping in of black frames whilst some factory and machinery shots seem lifted straight from Antonioni’s ‘Red Desert’ (1964). But it doesn’t quite hold together and Anderson might share Godard’s desire for satirical political mischief but he lacks Godard’s genuine sense of fun and play.

This is extraordinarily frustrating as some of these sequences are handled and shot brilliantly with some real moments and flourishes of genius, yet this lack of cohesion and its length makes the movie a slog and, ultimately, almost meaningless.

So I’m still struggling to figure out what ‘O Lucky Man’ was about? If it’s a critique of British capitalism and decline of Empire then it fails as it raises issues but addresses none of them. Is it about Malcolm McDowell’s rise to fame? If so that story has been done better elsewhere such as in Peter Watkins ‘Privilege’ (1967). Is it about a young man who can’t fit into a society that seems both against him and also tolerant of his excesses? Again, why not just re-watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’?

I’m going to spoil the ending here. At the end Mick decides to audition as an actor for a feature film. It’s his one last chance to make anything of himself. The director, played by Lindsay Anderson himself (there’s more ego sloshing about here than in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2’ — 2017), wants Mick to smile, but Mick needs to know “why”? The director simply slaps him across the face. There’s the problem, for me, right there with this movie: it doesn’t feel like it is Mick that Anderson is slapping across the face but more that it is us, the audience. The stars and crew might engage in a self-congratulatory, meta-part at the end but we’re left feeling like we’ve been viewed with contempt.

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‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981)

‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981)

Lucio Fulci’s ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) is really gross!

The film tells the “story” of the Boyles, a family who rent a house where the father’s ex-colleague, Dr Peterson, hung himself after killing his girlfriend. It seems Dr Peterson was doing research into a certain Dr Freudstein (how did you come up with THAT name, Lucio?!), an insane Victorian doctor who performed unnatural experiments. Oh, and Dr Freudstein’s body is buried inside the house so, you know, nothing to be at all concerned with here!

Bob, the Boyle’s young son, has visions of a little girl warning him to stay away from the house but, being a horror film, little Bob completely ignores this. Strange events start to afflict the family and it isn’t long (well, about forty five mins run-time) until they figure out something is not quite right. And it seems that anyone who visits the house is brutally murdered! Has Dr Freudstein returned? Did he ever go away initially? Or is someone else using his name for their own agenda? And why is there only one head-stone in the cemetery this house is, supposedly, next to?

This film is typical Fucli in that it’s grungy, nasty and barely makes sense. It’s also a blatant mash-up of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ (1980) and Jack Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’ (1961) except Fulci does manage to put a somewhat original twist on it all and boy, does he milk that Freudian theme (if the house is the mind then its cellar is the subconscious). So as opposed to Kubrick Fulci doesn’t project the son’s shadow side onto the father hence turning a parental figure into a monster. No, it seems as though Dr Freudstein represents the child’s monstrous side manifest, one that the child must be reborn into to have full realisation. It’s the parents that are the ones that need to worry here and the Henry James quote at the end helps ram that home – are all children little monsters?

So despite having almost no original ingredients it certain has its own unique flavour. It’s also nasty as hell and highlights the aspects Fulci had that set him apart from the other Italian horror directors. So there are no “set-pieces” or elaborate moments of bravura camera moves signalling something is going to happen. With Fulci it just does happen, gruesomely, adding to the shock. The moments of violence burst, seemingly, out of nowhere usually coming on the heels of a scene that could be classed as “dull”. It adds an interesting contrast but also helps keep us on our toes as nothing is explicitly flagged up. The deaths are nicely unexpected and very, very gross. It’s not often I go “Ewwwwwww!!” during a film but I did here… a number of times.

Having said that, I still find I really have to meet Fulci half-way with his movies as they always seem on the verge of collapsing into shit (which is also part of the thrill of watching them and almost as nerve-wracking as the monsters). So if you have a low tolerance for almost incomprehensible storytelling, bad dubbing, annoying kids, cheesy music and even cheesier shifts in tone then you might struggle with this one. If, however, the thought of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) mixed with ‘The Shining’, Freudian analysis, a shit load of gore and one of the most outrageous bat attacks in horror cinema sounds like your cup of tea then I heartily recommend a visit to ‘The House By The Cemetery’.

‘The Collector’ (1965)

‘The Collector’ (1965)

Written by  Colin Edwards

Last night I watched William Wyler’s adaptation of John Fowles’ ‘The Collector’ (1965) where a young bank clerk, Freddie, kidnaps a young art-student, Miranda, and keeps her prisoner in the cellar of a country house. He doesn’t want to kill or assault her; he simply wants her to get to know him. He’s not very good with people you see, preferring the company of dead butterflies which he collects and displays. Understandably Miranda doesn’t want to get to know Freddie and wants only to escape, but will she get the chance? Even if she does get the chance then will she take it? What are the barriers that stop us leaving an abusive relationship? Physical or psychological? More unnervingly, do we actually want to leave when given the chance?

‘The Collector’ is a very good film and one that straddles interesting territory. It’s post ‘Psycho’ yet pre-empts Stockholm Syndrome (first termed around 1973) as a focus for drama as this movie is very much (in fact, purely) about Freddie and Miranda’s relationship.

This film feels on the cusp of so many things. Made slap bang in the middle of the 60s, and following both ‘Psycho’ (1960) and ‘Peeping Tom’ (1960) by a good four years, it feels both older and newer than its predecessors. The filmmaking style feels more restrained (which is appropriate) and old-school yet it also doesn’t opt for the typical psycho-sexual explanation for Freddie’s behaviour that could’ve been the clichéd way to go, allowing Fowles and Wyler to address something more subtle and identifiable – the violence we can inflict on each other because of our need for “love”. It’s not the urge to kill (although the urge to destroy is there) or ravish but to be wanted, something we can all identify with. Also, once the “relationship” between Freddie and Miranda is established the thoughts, feelings and interactions they have are those that can exist in any relationship. You don’t need to be a psycho to get this film; maybe just married. This makes Freddie less of a monster but, hence, also way more dangerous. This ambiguity means there are plenty of moments where our sympathy shifts leaving us wondering just who is torturing who. Although, when it boils down it, it’s pretty obvious (he torturing her!).

It’s also shot in a way that suggests modernity for that time, sometimes lapsing into colourfully gothic displays with some Mario Bava style lighting and design making it feel almost like a British Giallo. And the fact it seems that Freddie’s father, like happened to so many young men at that time, had died during the War emphasises this British tone, really giving the film a unique feel in both time and place and Wyler does a great job with all this.

Yet the story is still full of typical Fowlesian obsessions: natural history; manipulation; narrative sleight of hand; the delusional aspect of love; a certain snobbery regarding literature; the hierarchy of class; the possible stirrings of the author’s massive ego bubbling under the surface, etc. Having not read this Fowles novel it has made me curious to possibly check this one out.

Back to the film and the performances are great. Terrence Stamp is creepy as anything as the pathetic Freddie pulling our sympathies this way and that, sometimes vulnerable and sad, other times a knot of destructive darkness. If you ever wondered if the dashing and handsome Stamp could look as pathetically desperate as Peter Lorre then just watch this. Although it is Samantha Eggar as the captive Miranda who possibly steals the show with a whole host of emotions readable on her face at any one time. We know what she’s thinking but we don’t want Freddie to catch on too. Don’t emote too much Miranda!

And the ending? It’s pretty cool and very unexpected. It’s not that our allegiances shift (we always want Miranda to escape after all) but we’re more not wanting her to resort to desperate, albeit understandable, measures to obtain that freedom. But maybe she should? What a pickle! And all because of “love”. The climax also had me thinking of ‘American Psycho’ (2000) a little and not just in having certain truths revealed but also the question of whether or not society at large will even notice or care. It’s very chilling and extraordinarily bleak and very effective.

‘The Collector’ is a smart, intelligent and genuinely disturbing film. If you like ‘escape from capture’ types of film such as ‘Misery’ (1990) or psychological battles of will then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

If you like The Collector, you might like How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

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