SIMON CALLOW ON LAUGHTON
Charles Laughton gave a handful of the most vivid and memorable performances ever committed to celluloid; the vulgar. oft-wedded monarch in The Private Life of Henry VII] the tyrannical Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, Javert in Les Miserables. a beautifully simple portrait ofan artist in Rembrandt and the lament ofa human spirit trapped in a hideous shell in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In his recently published biography Charles Laughton: A DifﬁcultActor (Methuen) fellow thespian Simon Callow makes a persuasive assessment of his idol as ‘a giant and a hero of acting. who had pushed it further and deeper than any actor of our century‘.
For someone ofCallow‘s generation Laughton seems an unusually distant example to uphold as an acting mentor but he explains. ‘He seemed to me so fearless about expressing the inner landscape. In the first instance the great joy was to see big themes and great historical events and a huge sense ofcharacter; he seemed to make life bigger than it was rather than smaller. He seemed to expose great areas ofhimselfand I think I had a tremendous need or desire to expose what I felt was rumbling around inside me. The next generation along from me. many of whom I know personally and respect greatly. were moulded by RADA and were the new so-called working-class actors. As a sort of middle-class romantic lost in dreams ofart I didn‘t identify with the world that they were portraying.‘
Previous biographical work on Laughton had concentrated on this private life and a problematic coming to terms with his homosexuality. Callow wanted to approach his subject as an actor assessing his contributin to the craft and perhaps redeeming his unjust remembrance as a shameless ham. "The basic reputation of Laughton was of an actor gone berserk. just uncontrollany rampaging all over the screen whereas. in reality. I found enormous delicacy and finesse all the way across his work. As I think I make obsessively clear in the book I think Laughton approached acting like a painter approaches a portrait. I Ie offers us a vision of the character. he doesn‘t just offer the photographic reproduction.‘
Laughton may have felt unease at the world around him. irreconciled to his ugliness or homosexuality but Callow argues that he used all his personal angst to demonstrate the characters he played and was engaged in a vast psychotherapy through his work that reached its apotheosis with his staggering performance as Quasimodo. Afterwards. he had ‘burnt himself
out‘ as an actor but was able ‘in his emotional life to move towards the possibility of reciprocal and tender affection which was not based on any power game and I think he found it towards the end of his life.‘
Callow offers a fascinating thesis on the relationship between an actor and his creations and says, ‘Most of my book is a plea for poetic acting that risks going into areas of formal invention and ofexperimentation. For some weird reason acting seems to have got stuck in one mould as if art had been stuck into late 19th-century realism. Why can‘t we have impressionistic acting. exhibitionist acting, baroque acting, naive acting? I don‘t know why we should be so cramped in that way just because we have to deal with images of people‘s lives.‘
Charles Laughton once described movie acting as ‘simple. Feel it in your guts and then let it dribble up through your eyes.‘ Callow‘s book stimulatineg analyses the way in which Laughton‘s art was anything but simple in the way he intensified personal experience to illuminate dramatic invention. "The only other actor I can think ofin the Laughton mould is Brando. If I were asked to choose my Desert Island films I‘d have The Hunchback ofNotre Dame and I‘d certainly have Last Tango In Paris. Ifsomehow Brando‘s Fletcher Christian had met Laughton‘s Bligh, then we would have seen
Charles Laughton: A Difﬁc‘ultActor ispublished by Methuen at£12. 95. The Charles Laughton season at the Glasgow Film Theatre continues on 19 September with a double-bill of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Witness for the Prosecution.
0 This 'n That Bette Davis with Michael Herskowitz (Sidgwick & Jackson £12.95) Scrappy. catty autobiographical curtain call from she of the celebrated eyes offering an unsparing ﬂow of gossip. comment and recollections ofJoan Crawford. her marriages. the Hollywood Canteen. her recent award-strewn career and the on-going feud with daughter dearest 8D. In 1983. at the age of75. the apparently indestructible Davis underwent a mastectomy. suffered a stroke and broke her hip. With characteristic grit she has valiently struggled back to resume her career and pen this insubstantial volume. A remarkable, legendary woman. an unworthy book but fun for those who like their anecdotes laced with acid. (A.H .) 0 EnterTalking Joan Rivers with Richard Meryman (Star £3.95) Thoroughly engrossing. surprisingly unhysterical account of the lengthy showbiz apprenticeship served by Rivers. Instead ofchurning out a slick. gags-to-riches story this is an analytical and honest resume ofthe struggle for stardom by a ‘huge thing
with knees that could have fed China for years.‘ Funny and candid it explores the trials and traumas of a young girl determined to be the next Jennifer Jones. her years of anonymous. undignified failure and a final sidestep into stand-up comedy and the realisation that the best and most original humour can be based on personal truths. Ending with her first major triumph on the Johnny Carson show at the age of31 . this is one ofthe better. heartwarming showbizzy autobiographs from someone who appears to have undergone years ofanalysis. (A.H.) o The It's A Wonderful Lite Book Jeanine Basinger (Pavilion Books £9.95) Loving. lavish. exhaustively detailed record of the origins and production of the Frank Capra — James Stewart Yuletide classic in which an ordinary fellow learns of the worth of his existence via a guardian angel. Bursting with interviews. production notes. revised scripts and hundreds of familiar and unusual photographs. this is attractively designed and affectionately compiled. Every cherished movie memory should be documented with this degree ofcare and thoroughness. How about The Singin'ln The Rain Book, TheSome
Like It Hot Book . . . Highly recommended. (All)
0 Hope and Glory John Boorman (Faber and Faber £4.95) Following Money Into Light. about the tribulations of making The Emerald Forest. Boorman continues the very welcome process of self-documentation with this valuable volume going behind the scenes of his latest and most overtly autobiographical film. The illustrated text includes the script. the personal context of the dramatised events and a section on the traditional difficulties of raising the finance fora major British production. A literate companion to the finished item and good value for money. (All)
0 Vanity Will Get You Somewhere Joseph Cotten (Columbus Books £10.95) Cotten‘s durable film career began with Citizen Kane and stretched to include such major works as The Magnificent Ambersons, Duel in the Sun. The Third Man and Heaven 's Gate. This warm-hearted reﬂection on his life is a mixture ofprivate memoir and ‘autobiographical wanderings‘ with the balance weighted towards the personal rather than the professional. l-lowever there are
8The List 18 Sept— 1 Oct