All posts in Legends of the 24hr Film Session

RIP Rik Mayall (1958 – 2014)

Rik Mayall

It’s virtually impossible to understate the importance of Rik Mayall in shaping who I am. Anything I ever wanted to do or be was influenced by him. I pronounce words like ‘sand-a-wa-hitch’ and ‘sue-iss-you-ide’ the way he does, I giggle any time I see glacé cherries. I can’t look at a chess board without thinking about him. If I hear something vaguely saucy I’ll screw my face up demon-like the way he did. If I get hurt by someone I’ll loudly declare ‘Ah ha! Missed both my legs!’

 

Rik Mayall Comedian ActorIt’s not just me. Almost everyone I know does it. A whole generation united in mimicking Rik Mayall’s unique delivery. Nobody will say ‘Let’s do it!’ without verbally twirling ‘Do-oo-oo it!’. Even a straightforward ‘Bastard!’ has to be yapped like an angry puppy.

 

These examples are all from programmes he did with Ade Edmondson and his other Comic Strip semi-regulars. Rik would snigger at ‘semi’.

 

Rik MayallBut there was so much more to his career and his unique talent than just shouting, knob jokes and getting smacked with rubber frying pans. He had a real gift for comedy, something infinitely enviable that it’s very difficult to pin down. His stage persona for example in his early stand up days, the notorious ‘Theatre’ poem and his angry delivery. Patient on stage, his timing perfect, knowing when to raise an eyebrow, when to pause, when to carry on. Always ensuring the audience would laugh when he wanted them to and not over the jokes. It’s impossible not to laugh at that one set. As if the poem wasn’t ridiculous enough, his absolutely intolerance of the audience’s laughter is infectiously brilliant. Every last protestation is another belly laugh.

 

 

If he were just a wildly comic clown or a decent stand up it would be enough, but he was more than that. He was a damn good actor. His performances in Rik Mayall Presents… (it can’t just be me that’s unable to read the name Siobhan without saying ‘Sy-oh-ban, shee-ob-un…’) and Jonathan Creek show a real knack for drama and his various performances on stage are unforgettable.

 

He managed to make the insufferable and irritating likeable. Lord Flasheart shouldn’t be likeable, Gideon Pryke shouldn’t be likeable, even Alan B’Stard is meant to be the most unlikeable thing of all: a politician. But you side with him due to that effortless charisma and charm that comes from his performance.

In 1991 Rik had something of a public humiliation when Drop Dead Fred (Ate de Jong) dropped dead at the box office. But its performance in ticket sales shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the film or of Rik’s performance. He’s wonderful in it. He gets to do all the things he’s good at and he does them well. It’s a genuinely good film and one I couldn’t wait to show to my daughter who at six years old adored it. This took her in turn to Bottom and then The Young Ones and then anything Rik turned up in really.

 

Rik MayallHe was totally unique, there will never be another one like him and he will be missed. I’ve never felt so sad at the passing of someone so important from my childhood viewing. Most of my heroes died at an age you’d expect them to. Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Norman Wisdom, Peter Cushing – they were all old men who lived full lives and careers. Rik Mayall died at 56. I was so sure his best work was yet to come.

 

 

 

Legends of the 24hr Film Session: Franco Nero

Sling a poison-tipped dart into a dung pile of seventies Italian ephemera and you’re guaranteed it’ll plonk itself into either one of Franco Nero’s handsome buttock cheeks, but don’t mistake his prolificacy for being a disposable background name.

franco1A well-built man’s man with piercing blue eyes and pubic hair spilling out from his underwear like angry ants carrying whips, Nero is a solid lead in many films; both tough and vulnerable, romantic, comic, violent and suave. His career is long and varied, but here we’ll be concentrating on the films which are fully deserving of a place in any 24hr film session.

In 1966 he lucked into the lead in Sergio Corbucci’s ‘Django’. In a way this proved to be the template for most of his coming performances – a loner seeking revenge. But prior to this would be his dalliance with Hollywood in major studio films such as ‘The Bible’  (John Huston, 1966) and ‘Camelot’ (Joshua Logan, 1967).

But we don’t care about that stuff because we’re cinematic rogues on a dirty and mysterious path; we have little or no time for Hollywood and its painted cows.

So let us skip forward a little to 1971 and Luigi Bazzoni’s spiralling (the pun’s wasted on you if you’ve not seen the film) giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’. Here Nero’s masculinity is proven as he butches around the franco2place with the character name of Andrea.  It’s a beautiful film, sumptuously shot with a confident plot which succeeds in spite of its absurdities, much like any good giallo. Andrea’s duality is clearly relished by Nero as he plays an investigative reporter looking into a killer who only kills on Tuesdays. That in itself is mysterious. If I were to kill people I’d do it on a Friday so as to maximise the impact on their family’s lives by ruining a weekend, or on a Sunday to emphasise the ungodliness of my act.

A few years later though and we get a film which impacts enormously on Nero’s future career. In 1974 he made his first film with writer/director Enzo G Castellari in ‘Il cittadino si ribella’, or to you and I: ‘Street Law. In fact from now on I shall refer to it as ‘Street Law’ simply so this doesn’t appear too obnoxious or “filmy”. In this ‘Death Wish’ inspired vigilante thriller (though Castellari insists both were in production at the same time) Nero plays a man pushed to the edge by hoodlums and ne’er-do-wells.  While Nero’s made better films, I don’t think he’s bettered this performance. From the start as he surreptitiously tries to secrete his cash in the bank during a robbery he plays a complete fish-out-of-water. This single act leads him to be kidnapped, beaten some more and generally exposed to a pretty shitty time of it. What’s great about Castellari’s film is that in fact his first act at vigilantism actually sees him getting the shit kicked out of him. It goes stupidly wrong. This in turn allows Nero’s Caro Antonelli to come back harder than ever before, and this time with a plan. He manages to overthrow the dirty crime gang and win the day, albeit with substantial blood loss. It’s clear throughout that here we have a director and actor working perfectly in tandem, no less obvious than in the scenes where Antonelli is repeatedly knocked down by a car and then driven over the edge of a cliff. That’s not a stuntman, my friend. That’s Franco Nero.

Here’s a magnificent compilation from said film:

nero3Any discussion of Nero can’t avoid the magnificent ‘Keoma’ (Enzo G Castellari, 1976). Again something of a vigilante film, but with a slightly more supernatural edge. It’s clear that Nero and Castellari were just peas and carrots. Nero has to carry the entire film as pretty much everything is told from Keoma’s point of view. He’s in every scene.

These films will all be covered individually later on this blog and in the book as there’s so much to say about each one. But Franco Nero was and always will be a cinematic legend. He even turned up in ‘Letters to Juliet’ (Gary Winick, 2010) with his wife Vanessa Redgrave. A film I was dying in front of, but his lively performance perked me up no end.

Franco Nero: We salute you.