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5 for the Day: Terence Stamp

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5 for the Day: Terence Stamp

“What do you feel about your penis?” asks Terence Stamp, in his almost comically deep baritone voice, as a “sex therapist who operates on the edge of the law” in Bliss (1997). Not the easiest line of dialogue to utter with a straight face, and it must be said that Stamp and the whole film itself risks absurdity at every turn. Yet as he counsels Craig Sheffer, who has hit a sexual roadblock in his marriage to Sheryl Lee, Stamp has the cheeky confidence and the aplomb, not to mention the weathered erotic magnetism, to make Bliss into a surprisingly serious investigation into what it takes to create physical intimacy between two people. He has always been drawn to arty sex films, from a Laura Antonelli vehicle (The Divine Nymph {1975}) to Pasolini’s Teorema (1968), which brazenly presents Stamp As Sex Object, the camera worshiping his compact body and small, round, exquisitely formed face, with its killer blue eyes flashing out over his largish nose and tiny, rosebud mouth. Repeated close-ups of Stamp’s crotch in Teorema basically bring about the total destruction of the bourgeoisie; politically, sexually and spiritually, Stamp is an icon of the most idealistic side of the sixties, a Gerard Philipe who’s willing to get naked, an amused and amusing narcissist who has cultivated a come-hither yet chilly mystique.

That mystique has had to endure many bad movies, alas. After his sixties heyday, it was an unhappy thing to see Stamp turning up in films as dreadful as Link (1986) and The Real McCoy (1993), not to mention even worse recent credits like My Boss’s Daughter (2003), where he is a figure of fun confronting jackass Ashton Kutcher. Actors can only do their best with what they are offered, of course, but Stamp seems as upset with these crass films as we are watching him in them. In his best work, he can be touching, gruesome, self-pitying, repellent, sensitive and inviting, and he is as vivid and tantalizing a camera subject as one of his 60s girlfriends, Julie Christie (they were teamed for an adaptation of Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd {1967}, and their combined amatory presence nearly burned the screen to shreds, especially when he daintily undressed her with a phallic sword). It’s high time that someone rescued Stamp from the drek of his recent work; until then, let this serve as a reminder of his uncanny on-screen charisma.

1. Billy Budd (1962): For his film debut, Stamp was given the practically unplayable role of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, a seafaring angel who comes up against the protective sadomasochism of his ship’s master, Claggart (Robert Ryan). Stamp is perfect for the part because he is aware of his own beauty in an un-self-conscious way; Julie Christie has always seemed slightly embarrassed by her looks, but Stamp relishes his own attractiveness in a manner that should be a turn-off, but never is, mainly because he’s so mysteriously self-possessed. There’s no insecurity in his knowledge of his good looks, no need to showily display them or be ashamed of them; he has the ease that Ingrid Bergman shows when she’s told she’s beautiful in Saratoga Trunk (1945), and blithely replies, “Yes, isn’t it lucky?” Stamp’s looks give him confidence and a kind of serenity that matches the almost non-human innocence of Billy, who’s so overtly beguiling and lovable that you can see why he so unnerves Claggart. Billy is Melville’s homoerotic fantasy figure as well as a saint, and Stamp brings him to life with easy warmth, an open mind and face, and just the right touch of ambiguous slyness.

2. The Collector (1965): In a startling reversal of type, Stamp transforms himself into a homely, fastidious, deadly and deadened collector of butterflies in William Wyler’s grueling adaptation of John Fowles’ novel. As a former clerk and lottery winner who kidnaps art student Samantha Eggar and keeps her a prisoner in his cellar, Stamp dresses like a young director of a funeral home, and his mannerisms combine Boris Karloff’s stately menace with James Dean’s grotesque gesticulations; working class Stamp emphasizes this madman’s class envy as the source of his psychosis and he never introduces any kind of charm or seductiveness into his portrayal of a boy so warped and repressed that he cannot deal, finally, with another human being or with anything living. Eggar has said that Wyler and Stamp treated her just as badly on the set as they do in the film, and her character is not very clever, which makes her plight increasingly sad and then maddening; it’s a drag of a movie, but the ending is resolutely, even daringly grim, and Stamp has successfully shattered any thoughts that he’s just a swinging London fashion plate. This film, coming so soon after Billy Budd, made us see that Stamp was an actor who could play anything. Unfortunately, after a few more varied sixties movies, he went into a monastic retreat through most of the seventies, and when he returned, he had to take what he could get.

3. Superman II (1981): For my generation, Stamp is mainly known, and cherished, for his outrageous performance as General Zod in this sequel to the first Superman (1978) film. Both Superman movies were to be directed by Richard Donner, but he was taken off the second one and replaced by Richard Lester, who added a lot of slapstick and also deepened the love story between Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). The recent DVD release of Donner’s awful “director’s cut” of this sequel shows how much Lester had to do with the wonderfully shameless style of Stamp’s performance; his plummy line readings have reached an immortal status in certain circles (and they have even inspired a website, GeneralZod.net). Anyone who saw this film as a child will be able to supply the correct cadences for the lines quoted below, and if you can, I’d encourage you to read them out loud in Stamp’s lordly General Zod voice:

1. “So this is planet Houston … a very strange surface.”

2. “These humans are beginning to bore me….”

3. “I win! I always … win….”

4. “Come to me, son of Jor-El! KNEEL before Zod!”

5. “I’ll draw his fire … with some of my own.” (This is the only line that makes Stamp look like he’s about to crack up laughing, right in the middle of it).

6. “Come! The three of us will crush the son of our jailer!”

7. “Now … the son of Jor-El will be my slave … for-evah!”

8. “Lex Luthor … ruler of Australia! Activate-the-machine.”

With slicked back black hair, a goatee and red-rimmed eyes, Stamp is almost unrecognizable at first (he has always been able to do different things with his looks, to suggest other faces and attitudes). This is not really a defensible movie, per se, even if it is a childhood favorite for many; the script doesn’t make sense most of the time, and Lester’s comic interpolations can seem mistimed. But I would always defend Stamp’s performance as the General; he makes the comic book villain into an endearingly vain aesthete, subtly preening when he first sees himself on television, putting down the “style” of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and fearful most of all of boredom.

4. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994): In the middle of this frivolous bit of Australian camp, Stamp does another full-scale transformation of himself and his looks. As Bernadette, a transsexual den mother and once-famed drag queen, Stamp effortlessly makes his still-pretty little face feminine, but he keeps his low voice as butch as possible, so that the contrast between female and male, between Stamp and his role, gives the whole film a sort of creative tension. The performance is exciting because a lot of Stamp’s distinctiveness always revolved around his mix of girl and boy, of femininity and masculinity, and he turns his own natural hauteur into a convincing kind of old queen dignity. Bernadette, with her Veronica Lake hairdo and cautious walk, is more of an old-fashioned Floradora girl than a disco creature, so it feels right that Stamp should be slightly awkward with the lip-synching and dance numbers set to 70s pop. Outclassing his material, as he always does in his latter-day work, Stamp is a serious presence in a silly movie.

5. The Limey (1999): Steven Soderbergh’s fetching, if shallow, blend of Stamp’s past and present features footage from Ken Loach’s Poor Cow (1967) to stand in for the youth of Stamp’s Wilson, a career criminal in search of his daughter’s killer. A lone wolf who often speaks in Cockney rhyming slang, Wilson is seen in fragments, lost in thought on a plane, and Stamp gives himself over to close-up contemplation with the sort of intense concentration that he must have learned in his years of religious seeking in the early seventies. His hair might have gone white and sparse and his face might have lines not visible in the Poor Cow footage, but Stamp’s eyes have remained the same: challenging, angry, witty, above-it-all. In the years since this outright Stamp tribute, he has had nothing suitable to work with, and his eyes get cloudier and more withdrawn. I’ve mentioned this idea before, but it bears repeating: put Stamp and Julie Christie back together on screen. Let those blue eyes open up for her, let him smile and stroke her hair and then let them look into a mirror and both smile, at themselves and at us, with all her misgivings and all his completely justified vanity.

House contributor Dan Callahan’s writing has appeared in Slant Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal and Senses of Cinema, among other publications.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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