Kenilworth Cinema

A guest entry by Martin Duffy.

My full-time working life started in 1967 when I was fifteen years old. My perfect job and I found each other by chance and it was movie magic: I was hired as the apprentice projectionist at the Kenilworth Cinema in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. A cinema later renamed The Classic when its partner cinema of that name closed down. I was a shy, withdrawn teenager spending my evenings separate from those seeking escape, and perhaps some sexual escapades, on the other side of the projection room wall.

It has been more than ten years since I stood inside a projection room, and already by then the world I knew was long gone. On that last visit, I saw the projection room of a multiplex. One person was responsible for seven cinema screens, and each projector had full-length film programmes on self-rewinding reels that were projected onto the screen with the light from powerful, maintenance-free, xenon lights. There was a billiard table in the projection room. Basically, all the projectionist needed to do was flick a switch to start the show.

It was so different in my Kenilworth days.

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A Guest Review by Martin Duffy.

My connection to the film Cabaret is long and complex. I first saw the film in my native Dublin when dating the woman who would become my first wife and the mother of our two wonderful sons. I had never seen anything like this film before. I loved its exotic, seedy world. I remember buying a cassette (remember those?) of the film’s soundtrack and listening to it over and over again. That was many years ago. Long before Berlin became my home.

Way back when I was trying to keep my eyes and hands off Marian as we sat in the Savoy Cinema in Dublin I could not have known that one day I would live a ten minute walk away from where the author of the story, Englishman Christopher Isherwood, lived in the seductive Berlin of Weimar Germany in the 1930s. Or that one day I would pick up – and be able to read – a German language copy of his Berlin diaries book at a local flea market.

The film Cabaret, made in 1972, is drawn from Christopher Isherwood’s two books about his time in Berlin and his nights at the Kit-Kat Club. The film was a phenomenal success when released. It was nominated for ten Oscars and won eight of them: setting the strange record of being the film with the most craft and subsidiary prizes (best director, best editing, art direction etc) without winning Best Film: that prize going to The Godfather.

From start to finish the film oozes a dark, sleazy sensuousness. The ladies on stage are voluptuous and crude. Joey Grey (who won an Oscar for his role) is the nightclub’s lascivious MC and Michael York is the British ‘innocent abroad’ who leads the audience through the narrative. Liza Minnelli (Oscar for Best Actress, daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli) is the fabulous Sally Bowles. Oscar-winning director Bob Fosse, known mainly for his talent as a choreographer, was not the studio’s choice and had just made the film ‘Sweet Charity’ that had been a flop. But the producers insisted on him and he brought new cinematic vision through his work. The screenplay had evolved through Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin diaries into the fiction I Am a Camera (a film made in the 1950s) and then into a stage musical until finally becoming the film Cabaret. The stage musical was performed last year in Berlin and was a sell-out for the months of its run.

Isherwood was gay and Berlin was a perfect adopted home for him. He was somewhat like the bi-sexual male lead character in the film who falls for Sally Bowles. Isherwood wisely left Berlin in 1933 when the Nazis took over. Not far from where he lived and I now live, at Nollendorfplatz, there is a memorial to the homosexuals killed in the Hitler era. Isherwood moved from Berlin to the USA where he worked as a college professor and could (almost) come out. His novel A Single Man was made as a feature film in 2009 with Colin Firth in the lead role and tells the story of a grieving gay English professor in America in the 1950s.

So what behind-the-scene gossip is there to tell about the film Cabaret? It was shot mostly in Munich although set in Berlin and partly shot here. It was extraordinarily provocative: perhaps the scene far from the nightclub in the beer garden being the most provocative of all when the clean young Nazi sings ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. It is a breath-taking film moment. I love the cuts to the old man who listens wearily: he has heard this all before. As a film editor I simply LOVE the editing of the music performances in the film.

So here it is. Meine Damen und Herren. Ladies should put on stockings and a bowler hat and gents should put on lipstick. Get out the banjo, hit the cymbals. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Cabaret. Divine decadence.

Starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey. Directed by Bob Fosse. Based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood. Music and Lyrics by John Kander, Fred Ebb.

The film is available on DVD.

About the author: Martin Duffy is a storyteller; he works as a film director, writer and editor. He also writes songs and has written several novels for young people and some non-fiction books. For more information please check the links below:

One, Two, Three

A Guest Review by Martin Duffy.

There’s a shot in Billy Wilder’s film One, Two, Three of Horst Buchholz riding his motorbike towards the Brandenburg Gates. He is approaching an East German checkpoint – not knowing that from the tail of his bike flies a large balloon with the words ‘Russki go home’. The scene, shot in mid July 1961, was one of several in the script to be shot at the Gates. Wilder had already cleared permission from the East Germans to do the shooting, but when he went back with cast and crew the following day to continue work East German troops blocked the Gates and he was refused access. Trying to negotiate, Wilder was told that first the East German authorities would have to read his script. Wilder replied: ‘I wouldn’t show my script to President Kennedy’.

The shooting plan had been to do exteriors and other locations in Berlin, then move into studio in Munich. Because of the East German refusal, however, the films budget took a jump because a section of the Gates and Unter den Linden had to be recreated in Munich. It had become a troubled return for Wilder to a city that had been his home in pre-Nazi times: some think the Vienna-born Wilder worked as a gigolo in Berlin, but he said he had only been a dancing partner for lonely older women in a nightclub.

The problem Wilder did not foresee in making this film was that tensions were building in Berlin, with an ever-growing tide of people fleeing the East. And an important part of world history struck a blow to the making of his film: a month into the shooting of One, Two, Three, the Berlin Wall was erected. Wilder described making the film as ‘making a picture in Pompeii with all the lava coming down’. The crew were relieved to move to Munich.

Recreating the area around the Brandenburg Gates was not the only fake in the film. The arrivals area of Tempelhof Airport was built on set in Munich. Then Buchholz had a motorcycle accident that threw the schedule into disarray and this set had to be taken down and rebuilt in Hollywood to complete the film after his recovery.

Though the film is a comedy, it was not a happy shoot. Wilder didn’t like Cagney. Cagney didn’t like the frantic performance Wilder demanded of him. Cagney also thought Buchholz was arrogant. Cagney retired after the film (making one feature film appearance twenty years later). Cagney loved sailing and the final – unintended – tipping point was when friends sent him a photo of themselves having a fine time on his yacht while he was miserably working in Berlin. All this, and a political landscape changing under their noses, was going on as Wilder was trying to take his swipe at Communism, Capitalism, and greed. Wilder was on a roll from the classic and hugely successful comedies Some like it Hot and The Apartment, and was doggedly sticking with black and white cinematography. But One, Two, Three failed at the box office and marked the start of a career decline. He rarely hit the box office jackpot again despite his towering reputation.

And so, for a comedy film set in Berlin, One, Two, Three is actually mostly faked Berlin and was an unhappy experience for many involved. But that shot of the laughing Horst Buchholz driving on his motor-scooter through the Brandenburg Gates is a major piece of Berlin film history.

Most of the above information is taken from Ed Sikov’s brilliant book: ‘On Sunset Boulevard, the Life and Times of Billy Wilder’.

Starring: James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin. Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Wilder with I.A.L. (‘Izzy’) Diamond.

The film is available on DVD.

About the author: Martin Duffy is a storyteller; he works as a film director, writer and editor. He also writes songs and has written several novels for young people and some non-fiction books. For more information please check the links below:

Funeral in Berlin

A Guest Review by Martin Duffy.

The Wall holds centre stage in Funeral in Berlin, the second cinematic outing of Len Deighton’s Cockney spy Harry Palmer. Palmer, played by Michael Caine, was a spy on Her Majesty’s secret civil service. He was the reverse of the glamour of James Bond; bogged down in the grit and bureaucracy of a seedy world and obliged to provide receipts for any expenses. When a woman falls for him his first reaction (unlike Bond’s) is to have his suspicion rather than anything else aroused. The film, released in 1966, is regarded as one of the best spy films of that decade.

The film opens with a very implausible escape over the Wall and thereafter Harry is brought in from London to investigate and facilitate a senior Soviet army officer (Oscar Homolka) who wants to escape to the other side. The ‘funeral’ of the title is the handing over of a coffin, from east to west, in which the general is hidden. Movie trivia on the film reports that East German soldiers disrupted filming by using mirrors to reflect sunlight into the camera lenses. There are shots of this in the film’s opening montage.

The dialogue is razor-sharp. A throwaway gem is when the waiter comes to Harry in the Berlin bar and says; ‘bitte?’, to which Harry replies; ‘no, a brown ale, please’. The banter between Caine and Homolka is wonderful and intelligent. For someone with German and English, there’s a bit of extra fun to be had in understanding the German lines that are being thrown away in the background of various scenes. The plot is extremely complicated – which is, I suppose, as it should be with a spy thriller.

The film is interspersed with second-unit material (shot by Godfrey Godar, with whom I worked in Ireland decades ago on a re-make of ‘Black Beauty’) that shows the city still not fully recovered from the war and newly-scarred by its division. There are lots of views of the Wall, its cement (okay, I exaggerate) barely dry. Some glimpses of Berlin are breath-stopping: at one point, a car drives through a waste-land and then passes the Philharmonie and you realise; that’s Potsdamer Platz! When Harry arrives in Berlin, you see Tempelhof in its full former glory. When Harry meets up with a buddy at Hotel am Zoo on Kurfürstendamm, you see the high street in all its Sixties glory. Berlin was thriving and full of life by the mid 60s. It was such a funky place to be! My own favourite scene setting, however, is the bar with the old transvestites – that’s my Berlin! Straight (or bent) out of Otto Dix. It’s a wonderful scene played with great deadpan by Caine, who fit the role of Palmer like a glove. He also became friends with, and got on-set cooking lessons from, Len Deighton. The film is marvelously politically incorrect. In an early scene, Palmer says to a semi-clad lady friend who has made breakfast in his flat “you’re hopeless in the kitchen. Get back into bed.”

Cast: Michael Caine, Oscar Homolka, Eva Renzi. Directed by Guy Hamilton (who directed several Bond films). Music by John Barry (a one-time flat-mate of Caine).

The film is available on DVD and is, Gott sei Dank, in full widescreen format.

About the author: Martin Duffy is a storyteller; he works as a film director, writer and editor. He also writes songs and has written several novels for young people and some non-fiction books. For more information please check the links below: