Thursday, October 19, 2006

Buying a DVD I will never, ever finish

A few years back I researched and wrote a book called Starring Michael Caine, about every film the British actor had made since his breakthrough role in Zulu. I meticulously researched all 80 movies, spending days on end in the British Film Institute library, interviewing directors and actors who had worked with Caine on particular films and trying [and failing] to get an interview with Sir Michael himself. As part of my research, I watched almost every Caine film twice: once to gain an instant, audience member response to the movie; the second time to note all the themes and detail that escaped me on a first watch.

A couple of films eluded me and one film I simply could not watch twice - at least, not without tearing my eyeballs from my skull and throwing them through the TV screen. [I opted to fast-forward instead.] The movie I couldn't stand to ever see more than once from end to end was The Magus, an adaptation of John Fowles' novels of ideas. Alas, a novel of ideas does not translate well to the big screen, barring the intervention of genius. Fowles himself wrote the screenplay and it wasn't his finest hour, by any stretch of the imagination. Personally, I think the one of the few redeeming features about The Magus as a feature was its poster, a nifty design you still see referenced today.

But it was Woody Allen who best summed up the film's lack of appeal. The comedian, writer and director was once asked what he would do differently if he could live his life over again. 'I'd do everything the same,' Allen replied, 'except watch The Magus.'

To get viewing copies of almost every Caine film made since Zulu, I had to spend a lot of time and money on the auction website eBay, scoring the globe for tapes and discs of the actor's more obscure projects. In some cases I paid money hand over fist to get what proved to be dodgy off-air recordings of films that had never been released on VHS or DVD - and The Magus was one of them. Now, three years after my book was published, many more of Caine's films have been released on shiny disc.

This week another clutch of them hit shops in the US, including Deadfall, Peeper and - you guessed it - The Magus. So I've ordered them all. I guess it's the completist in me. The Caine book didn't sell enough to earn royalties, so I doubt I'll ever be asked to write a revised and updated edition. I certainly have no intention of ever watching my DVD of The Magus when it arrives. [I doubt I'll watch Peeper either, a fatally flawed attempt at something Chinatown did with far more success. Deadfall has its moment, especially the centrepiece heist sequence, even if it was borrowed from Rififi - I might watch parts of that again.] But I want to have The Magus on DVD. It would certainly come in handy if I ever get a job as an interrogator.

In the meantime, here's my list of Michael Caine's Top 10 Most Under-rated Movies:
Gambit (1966)
Play Dirty (1968)
The Last Valley (1970)
Pulp (1972)
The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
Dressed to Kill (1980)
A Shock to the System (1990)
Blood and Wine (1997)
Little Voice (1998)
Last Orders (2001)


Chris Weston said...

Hey, Dave... why let all that Caineformation go to waste? Build a website that catalogues and reviews his films. Link each movie to the Amazon page that's selling the DVD, and you may even make some money.

Good Dog said...

The great thing about Michael Caine is that he'll lift even the most pedestrian movie.

As for the 'under-rated' Caine movies... Gambit, Pulp and especially A Shock To The System are just superb.

Love Last Orders. Little Voice is great for his final on-stage performance. It's like he's channeling Mortwell from Mona Lisa.

Chris Weston said...

Anyone seen "The Black Windmill"? It's a nice little espionage thriller with a downbeat, seedy atmosphere... and also features another superbly slimey turn from the great John Vernon.