Alice Fisher: If you're in any more trouble, Billy, it's not something you can leave behind you, you know. You put it in your suitcase, and you take it with you.

     Billy Liar (1963)
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November Issue

Classic Film

Comedy and Drama... British Style

Our last screenings for the year are both British films, both from the 1960's, but two very different films. One a powerful social drama, the other an absurdist comedy.

In our November issue we are looking at the on-screen achievements of Leslie Caron, one of the stars of The L-Shaped Room. And we look at the sub-genre... the absurdist comedy of which Billy Liar is a good example.

And to find out more about our two films this month... be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the eZine.

We hope this issue has something of interest for you, and we hope we'll see you at one of our great up-coming films
Classic Film Actresses
Leslie Caron
French ballet dancer Leslie Caron was discovered by the legendary MGM star Gene Kelly during his search for a co-star for the Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951), a film inspired by and based on the music of George Gershwin. Leslie's looks and pixie-like appeal was ideal for Cinderella-type rags-to-riches stories, and Hollywood made fine use of it. Combined with her fluid dancing skills, she became one of the top foreign musical artists of the 1950s, while her talents as a singer, dancer and actress sustained her long after musical's "Golden Age" had passed.

Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born in France on July 1, 1931. Her father, Claude, was a French chemist, and her American-born mother, Margaret Petit, had been a ballet dancer during the 1920s. Leslie began taking dance lessons at age 11. While studying at the National Conservatory of Dance, she appeared at age 14 in "The Pearl Diver," a show for children where she danced and played a little boy. At age 16, she was hired by the renowned Roland Petit to join the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, where she was immediately given solo parts.
Leslie's talent and reputation as a dancer had already been recognized when on opening night of Petit's 1948 ballet "La Rencontre," she was seen by Gene Kelly. Leslie did not meet Kelly after the show but one year later Kelly remembered Leslie's performance when he returned to Paris in search for a partner for his upcoming musical An American in Paris (1951).

Kelly and newcomer Caron's performances had critics and audiences enthralled. The film won a total of six Oscars, including "Best Picture," plus a Golden Globe for "Best Picture in a Musical or Comedy". Leslie was subsequently placed on a seven-year contract at MGM.

While Leslie made a number of good dramatic appearances it was her performance in
Lili (1953) which finally caught the American Motion Picture Academy's attention. The film earned her not only an Oscar nomination, but the British Film Award for "Best Actress" as well. Her next acclaimed appearance was in the musical Daddy Long Legs (1955), in which she starred opposite Fred Astaire. The film was partly choreographed by Roland Petit, who founded the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, Leslie's former dance company.
It took another plush musical classic, Gigi (1958), to remind audiences once again of Leslie's unique, international appeal. Audrey Hepburn, who had played the title role on Broadway, was keen to do the film, but the role of Gigi had been expressly written for Caron, and so she was given the role. The Film won nine Academy Awards, including "Best Picture," with Leslie nominated for a Golden Globe as "Best Musical/Comedy Actress".

Her next significant role was in the powerful British drama The L-Shaped Room (1962) in which she played a pregnant French refugee who has been abandoned. The performance earned her a second British Academy Award and a second Oscar nomination.

The mid-1960s and 1970s saw Caron's film career take a detour into breezy comedy the best of which being Father Goose, opposite Cary Grant.

In the 1980s, Leslie appeared in stage productions of "Can-Can", "On Your Toes" and "One for the Tango". She also was invited and accepted to appear on American TV. At the age of 75, the actress won her first Emmy Award with her very moving portrayal of an elderly woman and closeted rape victim in a 2006 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999). More recent filming have included Damage (1992) by Louis Malle, Chocolat (2000) by Lasse Hallström, and the Merchant Ivory romantic comedy/drama The Divorce (2003).

Click on the image below to watch a relatively recent interview (2007) with Leslie Caron
Leslie Caron Interview
Charming interview with Leslie Caron
Absurdist Comedy

The absurdist comedy, despite being a sub-genre, still represents an interesting and diverse range of films. It is the kind of film which is full of nonsensical, almost stream-of-consciousness humor that more often than not attacks or lampoons some form of authority or social mores.

Jokes and visual gags often fly in a fast and furious manner, usually in an unusual or random manner that not only eschews a narrative for sheer absurdity, but also asks the audience to try to keep up. No subject is sacred or taboo, and often subjects or targets are chosen for shock value or because 'no one would dare' lampoon them.

In the '30s, the Marx Brothers were the kings of anarchic comedy, the proponents of their own brand of no-holds-barred humor captured for prosperity in films like The Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, and Horse Feathers. They had a knack for complex wordplay, double entendres, outrageous slapstick, and being able to walk into a room full of society people and leave the place in a shambles.

There was also W.C. Fields, a vaudeville comedian who made the switch to film in the early '30s and worked his own twist on the "up-the-society" theme. In such classics as You Can't Cheat An Honest Man and Never Give A Sucker An Even Break, Fields perfected an everyman persona who fights the world of henpecking housewives, bumbling bureaucrats, and obnoxious children with made-up words, a shyster's sense of chicanery, and a steady stream of liquor.

The '40s produced Olsen and Johnson, two comedians whose Hellzapoppin manages to spoof Hollywood musicals, the aristocracy, and the entire notion of narrative linearity.
The '50s and '60s belonged to England, whose rigid sense of tradition and respectability made them the perfect target for anarchic comedy and managed to produce both the Goon Show (featuring Peter Sellers) and Monty Python. Though the two groups flourished doing ensemble sketch comedy, it was the Python group who made a bigger splash in cinema; and in such films as Monty Python And The Holy Grail and The Meaning Of Life, they bring down institution after institution with deadly accuracy.

The '70s became the Golden Age of absurd comedies, as the American populace lost faith in the government and the church, the general public embraced a style of comedy that wasn't afraid to bite the hand that fed it.

Movies such as Animal House, Stripes, and Caddyshack wore a thin veil of narrative over the basic theme of the slobs vs. the snobs and attacked the upper crust of society, while the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team kept the stream-of-consciousness comedy alive with Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane!.

The surreal stylings of humor that mark the absurd comedy still reigned supreme in the comedy of the '90s; as long as there are sacred cows to be mocked and ridiculed, the subgenre has continued to live well into the millennium.
Most recently Absurdist comedy has become abjectly stupid (quite literally in the form of Dumb and Dumber), and has sought to push well beyond the boundaries of good taste (and actual comedy) into the realms of extremely poor taste. Cinemas are currently serving up a steady diet of sequels to unworthy original films (like The Hangover series or the unending American Pie sequels) or any film beginning with Bad (like Bad Moms, Bad Grandpa, Bad Teacher, etc)

Contemporary Absurdist Comedy has become something most intelligent people avoid, for good reason.,, watching too much recent absurdist comedy will literally lower your IQ. But all is not lost for fans of the genre as revisiting films from an earlier period is a very rewarding (and less mind-numbing) experience.

Our screening of Billy Liar is worth catching for this reason.

Screening at The School of Arts

Friday, 4th of November

7.00pm start

The L-Shaped Room (1962)

Jane, a young French woman, pregnant and unmarried, takes a room in a seedy London boarding house, which is inhabited by an assortment of misfits.

Drama     Rated: M      126 min
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Screening at The School of arts

Saturday, 5th of November

7.00pm start

Billy Liar

A lazy, irresponsible young clerk in provincial Northern England lives in his own fantasy world and makes emotionally immature decisions as he alienates friends and family.

Comedy/Drama/Romance     Rated:PG    98 min
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