I’m bedridden in that unsympathetic netherworld between actually being ill and probably being able to get up and aimlessly wander around. Like
is he? he is he isn’t maybe he actually is R&B failure Omarion after the London bombings said, pray for me. Man-flu is a killer. It means that this blog will be brief and half-cooked as it’s transmitting live from the duvet wherein I’ve been kept sane by Keith Richards’ autobiography, Bronson in ‘Deathwish III’ (the Lemsip of sickbed cinema) and the new Yelawolf and Trae track. Like a 24 hour bug, I have a tendency towards 24 hour obsessions triggered by a single remark, memory or paragraph. Even though Donald Cammell annoyed him back in the late ’60s and despite Donald’s suicide in 1996 (lucid and pain-free for approximately 45 minutes despite a bullet in the head), Keith isn’t particularly sympathetic,
“I met Cammell later in L.A, and said, you know I can’t think of anybody, Donald, that’s ever got any joy out of you, and i don’t know if you’ve ever got any joy out of yourself. There’s nowhere else for you to go, there’s nobody. The best thing you can do is take the gentleman’s way out. And this was at least two or three years before he finally topped himself.”
The moral there is to not annoy Keef. Did Donald actually care? Probably not. It’s a shame we don’t get more like Cammell making movies. I’ve written about him here in relation to ‘Performance’ but I still think there’s a great value in revisiting the frugal handful of films he also made (of which I get the impression that 1986’s ‘White of the Eye’ may have been his favourite due to a minimum of tampering. It’s little surprise that Cammell hung out with Mr. Kenneth Anger (he even appears in Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’) but despite being a ‘Hollywood Babylon’ series superfan—and yes, I’m aware that they’re factually questionable—the recent Blu-ray acquisition of Anger’s short films reminded me that I often prefer his work in theory rather than practise. Cammell’s other works, like the bigger budget ‘Demon Seed’ and the butchered then reassembled ‘Wild Side’ complete a quadrilogy of experimental, beautifully shot movies that are arty, unique and very watchable. Totally linear? Nope, can’t help you there, but there’s nothing else like these out there.
I get the impression that Cammell couldn’t help being a pain in the arse…he just saw something different out there, resulting in these curious mixes of the occult, sexuality and violence (again, it’s easy to see how he and Anger may have seen eye-to-eye). But his secret weapon on three of the four films of note that appeared was a former teen actor, typecast as a hood – ‘Rebel Without a Cause’s Frank Mazzola on editing duties. Frank is the toughest character in ‘Rebel…’ yet he’s one of the most intuitive editors in cinema history, understanding Cammell’s fondness for the unorthodox entirely. Cammell befriended Marlon Brando in hospital after Brando was hospitalized for scorching his testicles with coffee and they plotted a film and book together (‘Fan-Tan’ was released as a novel almost a decade after Cammell’s death and a year after Brando’s). It might be a cliché (something Donald seemed adverse to) but Donald Cammell’s life played out like one of his films. It’s a shame that his mooted film starring William Burroughs as a Supreme Court Justice kidnapped by terrorists and taken to Africa was scrapped because it required a budget that would top that of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but it’s well worth investigating his work.
A superior BBC ‘Transmission’ documentary on the man from 1997 ‘The Ultimate Performance’ (that even includes a substantial appearance by James Fox, who may or may not have found religion because of Cammell’s work) is on YouTube now. Watch. Get inspired. While you’re there, watch the Kenneth Anger ‘Hollywood Babylon’ from BBC’s ‘Arena’ from several years earlier too. They really don’t commission them like that anymore.