Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's Show Time Folks!

Just by dumb luck The French Connection had been scheduled on BBC1, late Thursday night. It meant that, just prior to transmission, the continuity announcer got to mention that along with the film winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, Roy Scheider, who passed away last Sunday, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Detective Buddy Russo.

Although there were certainly noteworthy films later in his career, such as Bart Freundlich’s The Myth of Fingerprints and David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in the 1990s, and, in the decade before, Cohen and Tate, John Frankenheimer’s 52 Pick-Up – which arrived long before Scott Frank showed how to successfully adapt Elmore Leonard for the screen – and Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters for which he provided the narration, the 1970s was really Scheider’s decade.

Though still working up until his death of complications from multiple myeloma, his best roles began with Klute and The French Connection in 1971 and ending with Last Embrace and his Oscar-nominated turn in Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz in 1979. Bang in the middle came the role of Amity Police Chief Martin Brody in Spielberg’s Jaws, the first film to take over $100m at the US box-office. If there's one movie an actor has to be identified with and remembered for, for the sake of shorthand, Jaws isn't that bad.

Between Richard Dreyfuss’ oceanographer Matt Hooper and Robert Shaw grandstanding as salty old seadog Quint, Scheider's Brody was the put-upon everyman caught up in extra-ordinary circumstances that audiences could identify with. An outsider on the island and aboard the Orca, Scheider understood the character perfectly when he improvised “You’re going to need a bigger boat” on location, even though the line is misquoted by pretty much everyone, including Carl Gottlieb and Scheider himself on the DVD extras.

Years ago, an actor’s death (or a director’s death) usually meant the BBC putting together a season of their films that would be put on in the coming months or, depending on their stature, over the Christmas period. As well as celebrating their body of work the screenings allowed the audience to catch up on films they hadn’t seen or hadn’t seen in a long time.

When that stopped, I’m not sure, but the arrival of the satellite and cable channels probably had a part to play in it. With all the new stations clamouring for product to broadcast, buying up films to fill screen time, titles got scattered around. Now maybe one or two films are all that get shown.

Whoever owns the broadcast rights to Jaws is probably going to roll it out if they can be bothered, or not. But we’ve all seen Jaws, right? The French Connection is not unfamiliar either. When was the last time Klute was shown on TV, or Sorcerer – William Friedkin’s remake of Wages of Fear, or The Seven-Ups or All That Jazz? Either one of them would be a fine tribute to Roy Scheider, as would Last Embrace, Jonathan Demme’s exceptional early flirtation with Hitchcock.

Last year I blew off about how I missed the BBC’s themed film seasons from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Currently other channels make the odd half-arsed attempt but they’re just showing films that they’ve shown again and again. More specifically, they’re films that, the majority of which, anyone can go into HMV and buy on shiny disc.

Flicking through the Culture section of The Sunday Times this afternoon, checking out the films being shown this week on terrestrial and digital channels and paying specific attention to the dedicated film channels, the one big gap still seems to be movies from the 1970s. When there is something from that decade it’s the usual suspects that everyone has seen again and again.

Sure, it’s easy to feed the audience what they want and have them coming back for more, but surely there has to come a point where people get tired of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. A deserving tribute to Roy Scheider would highlight the grittier films, for want of a better description, made with a pessimistic streak that reflected the disenchantment of the times – perfect for today’s climate.


At 6:48 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Hear, hear!

Must get me a copy of All That Jazz on DVD - if I wait for a channel to show it, I’ll have died of old age.

I know it’s not even remotely in the same league, but I still miss the Autumnal BBC Science Fiction season that used to come round once in a while (This Island Earth, Forbidden Planet, etc.). Harrumph.

At 6:54 pm, Blogger Jon Peacey said...

I miss the horror film seasons the BBC would play around Halloween and over Christmas... how I found Val Lewton when they'd not been released on tape.


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