8 July 2018

THE CRITERION COLLECTION PRESENTS: KING OF JAZZ (1930) and F IS FOR FAKE (1975). A DOUBLE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




KING OF JAZZ and F IS FOR FAKE: A PAIR OF CRITERION COLLECTION FILMS REVIEWED IN A DAZZLING DOUBLE BILL BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

KING OF JAZZ. (1930) DIRECTED BY JOHN MURRAY ANDERSON. PRODUCED BY CARL LAEMMLE JR. STARRING PAUL WHITEMAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA, BING CROSBY AND JEANETTE LOFF.

F IS FOR FAKE. (1975) WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ORSON WELLES. PRODUCED BY FRANCOIS REICHENBACH. STARRING ORSON WELLES, OJA KODAR, ELMYR DE HORY, CLIFFORD IRVING, EDITH IRVING AND FRANCOIS REICHENBACH.

'If I should live, I need to love.'

'A good show, like a good sauce, requires just a tiny dash of spice.'

'Jazz was born in the African jungle, to the beating of a voodoo drum.'

'All you do is stand back there, wave a little stick and form a background...!'

'America is a melting pot of music, wherein the melodies of all nations are fused into one great new rhythm... jazz.'

KING OF JAZZ is an absolute delight to watch. It's a ninety-eight-minute musical journey through the works of self-styled 'King of Jazz' Paul Whiteman, a jolly-faced, portly American musical genius who was a bandleader, composer, orchestral director, violinist and occasional dancer (that's an in-joke from the film, by the way) throughout his long and illustrious career.

The colouring of the film is exquisite. KING OF JAZZ is filmed entirely in the early two-colour Technicolor process and the pale greens and pale pinks are just gorgeous. I thought that the colour had been added in later by the restoration people but no, it was all done in 1930, a staggering achievement for those long-ago days.

A chap called Charles Irwin introduces the film, which is composed of a series of music and dance numbers inter-mingled with comical and other vignettes. Each piece is heralded by the turning of pages in a giant book entitled 'Paul Whiteman's Scrapbook.'

We meet Paul Whiteman and his band and then the chorus girls dazzle us with a seated piece, in which the choreography is so fantastic that you'd think it happens by sheer magic. You'd tend to forget the hours and hours of intense work that would have gone into a piece of work so complex.

The chorus girls are like a team of well-drilled marionettes and almost not like human females at all, females who took frantic smoke breaks to suppress their appetites so that they didn't put on the dreaded pounds that would cost them their job.

I can't even imagine how panicked would have been the chorus girl who found herself accidentally pregnant, watching herself with horror as she started to 'show.' For someone whose livelihood depended on her being able to kick as high and long as the other girls on the chorus line, that must have been a living nightmare. I know that that's a grim thought but I couldn't help thinking it nonetheless.

The most visually exquisite piece for me is 'The Bridal Veil,' in which a young bride-to-be finds a fabulous old wedding veil in a treasure chest. This is followed by the appearance of a regal parade of ghostly brides who'd all worn the veil in the past.

The costumes are out of this world. These were the good old days of Hollywood when they probably had a fully-staffed costume department that worked through the night to have the magnificent outfits ready for shooting the next day. The effort is well worth it. The results are stunning. There's no other word to describe such other-worldly creations.

Some of the comic vignettes are very funny, particularly the ones entitled 'Ladies Of The Press,' in which a female newspaper editor requires her news to be literally 'hot off the griddle,' and 'All Noisy On The Eastern Front,' in which a young French woman has difficulty in keeping track of all the men she's slept with during the First World War. 

This comes back to bite her on the ass in a decidedly comic way, but things may not have worked out so comically for her if it had been real life, lol. Guys rarely take kindly to being so flagrantly two-timed...! 

A ridiculously young-looking Bing Crosby forms part of The Rhythm Boys, who get their own song in the movie. Probably the highlight of the whole film is when Paul Whiteman and his entire orchestra perform George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, a gorgeous piece of music so memorable that I'm pretty sure it's been used in numerous TV adverts in modern times.

The women in the sketches look so adorably 'Twenties with their plump rosy cheeks and kiss-curls and little 'Twenties shoes and dresses. They're all proper little would-be starlets, while the men are all handsome matinee idols in the style of Rudolf Valentino with their gelled hair, rouged cheeks and lipstick. Yes, lippie, lol...! The whole film is a giant step back in time to a more glamorous era, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

'It's pretty, but is it Art...?'

'If you didn't have an art market, then fakers would not exist.'

'I don't feel bad for Modigliani. I feel good for me.' Elmyr de Hory.

'All the world loves to see the experts and the Establishment made a fool of.'

'I began at the top and I've been working my way down ever since.' Orson Welles.

F IS FOR FAKE, the last completed film by acting legend Orson Welles, is a much stranger, more complicated creature than the straightforward KING OF JAZZ. More of a film essay than an actual documentary, it has Welles looking at the careers of two men, Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving.

Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976) was a Jewish Hungarian painter best known for being an art forger who gained phenomenal success with his forgeries. His forgeries were so good that roughly a thousand of them were sold to art galleries all over the world. 

The vibe I got from Elmyr's on-camera reminiscences was that not all of the galleries were unaware of the paintings' status as 'fakes,' but they were such good fakes they bought 'em anyway...! He swears blind that he was never turned down by a gallery even once and he's such a loveable rogue that I'd nearly be inclined to believe him.

Clifford Irving (1930-2017) was an American novelist and investigative reporter who only died last December. His own works of fiction weren't selling worth a damn, but he became a worldwide success when he wrote Elmyr de Hory's biography, FAKE, in 1969.

I don't know if this book was intended as an exposé of Elmyr or what, but the upshot of it was that both men became sudden celebrities because of it. Then however, Irving went several steps further by perpetrating a hoax or confidence trick of his own, namely pretending that he'd written reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes's biography with the blessing and co-operation of Hughes himself.

This hoax landed Irving in jail for nearly eighteen months, but I'm sure he considered it a small price to pay for the fame- or maybe the notoriety- it brought him. The stuff about Howard Hughes in Orson Welles's film is fascinating and also a little eerie.

It seems that, in his quest for 'germ-free, air-conditioned solitude' on the top floor of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, all the Greta Garbo-esque ('I vant to be alone') billionaire did really was draw the attention of the world's media down on top of himself.

And it really makes you wonder if he wasn't as batshit-crazy as people say he was, this billionaire who allowed no-one access to him but 'just a tiny band of mystery Mormons.' Very
strange, n'est ce pas? What really went on behind those tightly-drawn curtains...?

He was the man on whom Welles's CITIZEN KANE was based and, over the course of a long lifetime, he'd been a film director, a record-setting pilot, a philanthropist, a business tycoon and a recluse whose life sadly began to be dominated by his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

THE SIMPSONS did a spoof of him when they turned millionaire Mister Burns into a crazy-as-a-loon casino owner with long hair, untrimmed nails, empty Kleenex boxes for shoes and a tendency to save his own urine in jars.

Now, all that spoofery was genuinely hilarious but, if there's any truth in it, it doesn't say much for the quality of poor Howard Hughes's life. Still, I probably shouldn't feel too sorry for him. He was a multi-billionaire, after all...! Money cures most ills, lol.

I loved all the stuff about Orson Welles's time in Ireland as an impoverished painter who turned to acting when painting wasn't proving terribly lucrative. The black-cloaked, black-hatted, cigar-chomping and bearded Welles recalls his own celebrated War Of The Worlds hoax and he tells at least one whopping great lie in the film which you need to keep a sharp eye out for.

It's a film about trickery, deceit and magic, after all, and 'the tenuous line between illusion and truth, art and lies,' one of Welles's favourite subjects and one to which he returned again and again during his career.

It's a highly unusual film essay which may confuse and annoy you, as it did me at first (the only things I've ever faked in my life are my orgasms), but when you relax into it you should love it. I really mean that. Or do I? It's a film about faking it, after all...

KING OF JAZZ and F IS FOR FAKE will be available to buy on Blu-Ray from the CRITERION COLLECTION on 9th July and 30th July respectively.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com








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