The Guest Spot

As the world's tallest building officially opens in Dubai, actor, writer, and occasional ka-os|theory contributor TheatreMad87 takes a look back at one night in 1974, when one tiny spark became a night of blazing suspense in the world's newest, tallest building: the Glass Tower...

The Disaster Paradigm

There are three main reasons why I don’t like blockbusters: -

1) The plots are thin and uninteresting.
2) The dialogue demands nothing of its actors, who usually turn in the poorest of performances.
3) The budget becomes the raison d’être for the entire project.

There is usually another reason why I’m not so keen on the demi-genre: star casting. As if it weren’t intolerable enough to have to sit through a lengthy series of images depicting major cities being destroyed by malign aliens, or heavily biased revisions of historical events in favour of the United States’ version of the stories, we must also be subjected to the opportunity for the so-called great and good of Hollywood to stretch their vanity muscles and remind us of why they are there in the first place. I’ve yet to receive an adequate explanation for why I was asked to pay money which could have gone to charity to watch Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor delivering some of the worst dialogue in film history (I’m including porn).

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. I have almost no unfavourable criticism for Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot: which I find even more surprising, since I’m not a great fan of comic book adaptations, either. Although these beacons of light shine out so much greater for the darkness which surrounds them, there are so very few that the word “relief” does not come close to describing the feeling when one comes across a half-decently packaged blockbuster which could work as a good film in its own right, which is exactly what I experienced during and after watching The Towering Inferno, released in 1974.

This is even more dazzling a realisation when considering that The Towering Inferno is not only one of the first major exponents of the Blockbuster – and specifically the Disaster Movie genre – but is in my humble opinion a fantastically gripping film which pumps out strong performances from an ensemble cast of contemporary stars. On paper, I should have hated the film – and I must admit to slightly dreading the three hour ordeal I was expecting – but about two hours into the film, I remember saying aloud how much I was enjoying it. The Towering Inferno has all I ask for in a work of dramatic art: a simple yet engaging idea tightly plotted and performed to near selfless precision by almost the entire cast.

I find it hard to conceive how a cast composed of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, and (believe it or not) Fred Astaire and O. J. Simpson could be anything other than a preening, parading mess of ego rivalry. The script, however, is cleverly crafted to ensure that only an ensemble attitude could be employed to create a believable set of characters. With most of the above mentioned actors sharing their scenes with one or two of the others at any one time, when the large groups are assembled, none of the stars are able to take over or chew the scenery. The situation around which the drama is plotted is too urgent for any of the big name actors to be narcissistic with their performances. McQueen and Newman are effortlessly watchable in every one of their scenes, and their electricity bristles when they play opposite each other. The two are also perfectly cast: Newman’s architect of the eponymous setting for the disaster is a suitable mix of righteous indignation and heroic willingness to sacrifice his creation for the good of saving lives; just as McQueen’s San Francisco Fire Department Chief seems to have been written for his stoic, surly and no-nonsense image. Similarly, yet on a far less glitzy scale, William Holden and Richard Chamberlain create an excellent antithetical on-screen partnership: where McQueen and Newman are a valiant team, Holden and Chamberlain present us with the worst petty rivalry possible, with Chamberlain’s spineless and vicious character serving as an ugly bitchy foil to Holden’s regretful yet self-righteous pomposity. Remarkably, Faye Dunaway, as Newman’s girlfriend, has little to do in this piece, while Fred Astaire’s relatively minor role shines precisely because he does little more than simply play the retiring con-man caught up in a situation which demands an opportunity for him to show his true courage. Special mention must also go to Jennifer Jones, in her final screen role before an untimely death, who is arguably the most active female character in the entire film, both in terms of her brave decisions, risking her life to save children, pets and other trapped residents, as well as getting the lion’s share of the action scenes. It is sadly ironic to see such a brave character come to such a sticky end, especially when the actress’ own tragic life is considered.

Finally, kudos must be given to Stirling Silliphant, who wrote the screenplay. Although there are the unavoidable clichés which appear throughout the film, Silliphant must be forgiven on two counts for these flaws: first, they only occur very rarely; and second, none of these moments are gratuitously or even explicitly sentimental in the same way that later disaster films such as the 2005 War of the Worlds remake or 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow. The plotting is surprisingly tight, considering how long the film is, and I was held captive throughout, genuinely gripped as the disaster was set up, unfolded, developed, worsened, changed course, and was finally resolved. Even in the final ten minutes of the film, moments of suspense were continually being fed, as characters searched for each other, and the horrible realisation of the extent of the damage to the city and its inhabitants’ lives dawned on the characters and the audience alike. Newman and McQueen’s final section of dialogue, in which the two vow to prevent anything similar from ever happening again, offers the viewer a kind of hope and optimism which reconciles the human endeavour to build and grow with the practical fear of disaster. Another strength this film has over many more cynical modern blockbusters.

Ultimately, whatever its effect, The Towering Inferno is in its essence yet another big showy blockbuster, but it is one with a heart. A film which gets the message across to its audience that frightening consequences are an inevitable result of hubristic pride and disregard for safety and it manages to tell this story very well, with an obviously clear commitment to that objective. Put simply, The Towering Inferno is rightly termed a classic, and is rollickingly enjoyable film to boot.

A picture is worth a thousand words

I no longer think about Taylor everyday, as I did in the weeks after his death. I'd be paralysed if I did. Grieving is new to me, never having had someone close die on me. That terrible pain that comes first, the crying, the terrifying sense of loss, waking up and realising he's not there anymore, slowly subsiding to a dull pain.

Now, I see his ghost on my blog: Taylor Siluwé is still a follower of ka-os|theory on Google Friend Connect, on Facebook. Or I see a comment he once left on a post on my blog, or someone else's. His books are on my bookcase. A picture, something, and I remember. It hurts, but I don't want to stop hurting, because that would mean pushing him to the back of my mind, or worse, forgetting.

A day or two ago, a picture popped up on Facebook. It was a picture of Taylor and his partner Trel, who Taylor loved deeply, and with whom he spent his last days. Trel is fiercely protective of Taylor, and Taylor's memory, and I was relieved that he was happy to consent to me sharing this beautiful image, of a beautiful couple. It's all there: Taylor, giving that sexy face we know and love, fiercely protective of his baby boy; Trel, looking lovingly at Taylor like that. And their hands, intertwined, unbreakable, telling us everything we need to know.

I asked Trel to tell me a little about the picture: "It was taken outside of the Hard Grove Cafe (Jersey City, NJ) on 'Same Sex Hand Holding Day' last year after we ate lunch. He took the picture using his BlackBerry, it was the forth time we took the picture, and this was the best fitting one considering I gave him the side eye all the time, and he always expressed his 'sexy' with the furrowed brows and puckered lips lol. As lighthearted as the picture is, the strength in our interlocked fingers reflect the pride and strength we had as a couple and the plans we we're determined to set into motion... Sadly it's one of the few pics him and I have with each other, when it came to pictures we only really trusted each other in catching a 'perfect' moment in time."

Thanks to Trel for sharing this.

Tired old queen at the movies

The Haunting

ulie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn and a host of ghosts and goblins bring Halloween to Tired Old Queen at the Movies, with Robert Wise's classic The Haunting (1963).

Shot in black and white and based on a novel by horror master Shirley Jackson, this is probably the scariest haunted house movie ever made. Filled with superb performances, an eerie score, fabulous sets and shot in an atmosphere of absolute conviction, this film will not only make you believe in ghosts, but will have you jumping out of your skin at a knock on the door. Whatever you do, wherever you are, whoever they are, don't let them in! Happy Halloween!

Steve Hayes

(Syndication is with the kind permission of Steve Hayes.)

MORE reviews

What I saw last night

The String
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

or a film that purports to be about race and class and cultural conflict, Le Fil (The String) fails to deliver on every level - yet it still manages to be a diverting enough cul-de-sac. Or maybe I'm giving it a pass because I've been watching too many dumb Hollywood blockbusters lately, instead of the edgy foreign language stuff that was once my staple diet...

In Le Fil, Spoilt brat Malik, a 30-something Parisian architect, returns to Tunisia and his domineering mother, who has acquired servant in the form of sexy Muslim boy Balil (Salim Kechiouche, of Full Speed, Three Dancing Slaves fame). Can ya see where this is going, kids?

Nowhere. Yes, that's right: it goes nowhere. With minimal fuss Malik and Balil fall into a hot'n'loving relationship, and everyone lives happily ever after. As you do.

If I tell you that EastEnders goes into more depth on the Islam/homosexuality issue than Le Fil does, then I need say no more. But despite its failings (or rather, the hype of heaped on it by TLA), Le Fil is an engaging, pretty film - just don't expect much in the way of drama.

he box says Strapped is "stunningly photographed". Now, coldly superficial as it is, A Single Man is stunningly photo-graphed. Tsai Ming-Liang films are stunningly photo-graphed. EastEnders is occasionally surprisingly beautifully shot (come on - Peggy staring at the Queen Victoria bust just before the pub burns; Janine gazing out at Albert Square at dawn as her Gran peacefully slips away.) But "stunningly photographed", Strapped ain't.

As visually exciting as an episode of Melrose Place, Strapped has a few things going for it, but directorial flair ain't one of them.

Look, the idea of a rent boy lost in a labyrinthine apartment block, and having adventures with various tenants, is a pleasing one (for this reviewer, at any rate), but it needs to be a bit deeper, a bit cleverer, than what we get here. Nothing's really good enough: not the script, the cast, nor the direction. Lead Ben Bonenfant is fine but he doesn't set the screen on fire in this role, and the supporting cast is, at best, midling. (The soundtrack is, however, brilliant.)

And I've no idea what the relevance of the title is - was Lost taken, then?

love a bit of feel-bad '70s cinema, me. Irwin Allen disaster movies? Check. Soylent Green? Check. Network? Check.

So having been impressed with the clunkily titled yet surprisingly good The Rise of the Planet of The Apes, I just had to check out the real deal. The first movie is brilliant. The second is also good, and goes out on a real downer. (Really, the ending is as feel-bad as you can get.) The third one is a bit dull, but the fourth, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is a bit of a dog's dinner. (Hari Rhodes, as one of the "good" humans, is kinda pretty, however). On the positive side, I love all the awful '70s concrete architecture, and the general thrust of the story (the 2011 Apes film borrows heavily from it) is fine, but the talky ending sucks. I don't want to be preached at by Roddy McDowell via 1972, thanks very much. The really sucky part is that the original ending, full of carnage and brutality, was softened in favour of the theatrical ending. I guess that's what happens when you're the fourth in the series of successful film franchise and the test audience gets a vote. Overall, Conquest just leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Are you the best of the best in the world?

Bear City

erd meets jock in coming of age flick Watercolors. Danny (Tye Olson) is an effeminate gay teen, and talented artist. Carter (Kyle Clare) is a high school athlete with a rocky home life.

Watercolors is a charming, good-looking film, but like Finding Me: Truth, it doesn't bring anything new to the table.

Look: Rikki Beadle-Blair's KickOff is a comedy about a gay football team; his forthcoming second picture Bashment is about a white, gay rapper. Aluizio Abranches' From Beginning To End is about gay brothers in love. Leave It On The Floor is a romance set within the ballroom scene. See where I'm going with this?

These are films that dare to think outside the box. Watercolors is good-hearted - and safe - but it won't set the world on fire. But that doesn't really matter, because this bittersweet little film is engaging, and moving. (Finding Me, on the other hand, was crippled by a lack of vision, and left a nasty taste in the mouth.)

The two boys are excellent (Tye Olson's Danny is particularly good), Olympic diver Greg Louganis makes a cameo as Carter's swim coach, and Karen Black (Easy Rider, Family Plot) is Danny's passionate art teacher.

o the above list of "gay films with ideas" add Bear City, a comedy that takes us into the big heart of the bear scene in New York City.

Your correspondent is not a bear (or even a cub), and this world was a total mystery to me. That lack of familiarity is one thing this wonderful littlebig film sets out to address.

Laugh out loud brilliant, Bear City's heart is as big as its hairy gut. You'll want to hand back your twink/clone membership and get down and sweaty with these guys.

A sequel is on the way: I can't wait.

Trying to be the me without you


New(ish) music - for you! Londoner and Unklejam refuge Tyson comes with the banging After You're Gone. Bloc Party refuge Kele Okereke brings What Did I Do, featuring some girl, although his vocal contribution is so slight I'd suggest it's Some Girl (barely) featuring Kele.

More UK flava: Loick Essien's epic, gorgeous, Me Without You, easily my favourite of this lot. As Popjustice say: "In the current pop climate it takes balls bigger than a prizewinning pumpkin to steer of the ubiquitous lowest common denomiguetta club sound that has pop pinned to the wall by its throat, and on the basis of his second single we can conclude that Loick Essien does indeed, metaphorically, have a sizeable scrotum."

Miguel is singing about Girls Like You, looking like a bit of a girl himself (we like). A bit more low key is an Addicted Prince Royce.

Here, we have some French boys rapping - it's Mokobé - Taxi Phone; and Corneille, with Des Pères, Des Hommes Et Des Frères.

Surprisingly, Will Young's reentry isn't a disaster - Jealousy isn't at all bad. Soul/rock stalwart Andrew Roachford has a new album out this month - Addictive - but there doesn't seem to be a single to promote it, so here's the classic Lay Your Love On Me.

South Korean boyband SHINee have released a new video for their hit Lucifer, for the Japanese market (and for your viewing pleasure, the much gayer original)...

Finally, an honorary mention must go to Jamaican reggae singer Mista Majah P, who has released the world's first pro-gay reggae album (there's a sentence you thought you'd never see). The best part is he's straight. Mista Majah P said: “I want to counter the myths that all Jamaicans are homophobic and that all reggae music is violent and anti-gay. I’m seeking to challenge ignorance and reach out to gay people.”

Tired old queen at the movies

Now, Voyager

ette Davis and Paul Henried plumb the depths of emotion in Irving Rapper's tender and romantic adaptation of Now, Voyager (1942).

Based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, Davis plays Charlotte Vale and lonely spinster driven to distraction by her domineering mother, brilliant played by Glady's Cooper. Thanks to the kindly intervention of psychiatrist Claude Rains, she goes on a cruise to recuperate and falls in love with a handsome and unhappily married man Paul Henried. The trials and tribulations of this affair, accompanied by a gorgeous Oscar winning score by Max Steiner, lay the foundation for one of the greatest love stories ever filmed and give Bette Davis one of her most memorable roles.

Steve Hayes

(Syndication is with the kind permission of Steve Hayes.)

MORE reviews

57 channels (and nothin' on)

men, in pictures

Take the long way home

Faithless - Take The Long Way Home (1996)

Epic, deep, dark, Take The Long Way Home is all of these things.

Watch as, under the I've-seen-everything gaze of the deceptively ancient-looking Maxi Jazz, a black boy in a baseball cap collides with a white man in a suit carrying a briefcase. Watch the white man's wallet fall to the floor. The black boy bends down to pick it up. The white man looks back, but keeps walking, fear on his face. The black boy runs back to the white man, and hands him the wallet. The white man looks confused, afraid, and retreats. The black boy trots off, head down, crushed by this taste of the world...

How many music videos can you say have made you die, a little, inside? The further I go the more I know / Turned up in places that I never intended to go / And so ended my youth... Ain't that the truth, right there.

Take the long way home, but don't expect to enjoy the trip.

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song

Here's two key lessons any idiot (i.e. stupid people like you and me) can learn from watching Steven Moffat's Doctor Who:

1) No one really dies, and even if they do, they'll magically be brought back to life.

2) Nothing that happens matters, because it can magically be reversed or made to never have happened.

I watched the first few episodes of this latest series of Doctor Who, but gave up before I lost the will to live; however, I felt duty bound to watch the season finale, at least.

Showrunner Moffat's Doctor Who is a bizarre confection. Episodes (particularly end of season epidosde) are like very long trailers, highlighting all the exciting things that will happen in the forthcoming season. And as we all know, trailers are BIG! and LOUD! and EXCITING! and designed to get the attention of a deaf and dumb slow person. But there's nothing else, no depth or sense or integrity; for that, you need to watch whatever it's a trailer for. In the case ofDoctor Who, it's not a trailer: the "trailer" is the show.

Imagine that. Imagine watching a trailer that goes on for 50 minutes, a whole load of nothing, with lots of fireworks, that goes nowhere and says nothing. Doctor Who's season finale was like that: a blur of random, rapidly cut together scenes, possibly from earlier episodes in the season, that made little sense to me (but will no doubt have people on fan forums vibrating with excitement).

What was it all about? I don't know. I doubt Moffat knows. But it had the veneer of being something clever, which is what counts in this bizarre - yet tedious - world. We must always be seen to be clever, eh, Moffat?

Oh, it was all about time happening at the same time, or being stuck in a loop, and to fix it the Doctor had to die (there's the hook to sell it to the viewership - sod it if it doesn't actually mean anything) and if he doesn't die the universe will be killed (or something). So he dies, except he doesn't, so everything's okay. Meaningless gunk with no connection to any kind of reality.

Pointless, smug, self-indulgent, and insulting on almost every level, Doctor Who continues to lurch from bad to worse. The ratings might be down - as audiences switch to things with more integrity, like The X Factor - but the BBC won't put this tortured beast down, oh no. Not while the cash keeps rolling in.

The broadcast of the season finale comes in the same week that the BBC announced the cancellation of behind-the-scenes companion series Doctor Who Confidential, in which key members of the production team (Moffat) get to be celebrities and gloat about how important and clever they are. Perhaps with the demise of Confidential, they (Moffat) can get back to making a halfway decent show.

And maybe The X Factor will unearth a genuine, shining talent with a shelflife of more than six months. What are the odds, do you think?
◄Design by Pocket