That consummate actor and film star Eli Wallach died recently at 98. In a fathomless roll call of his Hollywood credits were legendary Westerns, both beefburger – The Magnificent Seven – and spaghetti – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Godfather III, The Misfits (the only star in the cast not to turn up their stellar toes almost the moment the movie was finished) and a string of Broadway hits, Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo among them. An early member of the Actors Studio, he married another, Anne Jackson, and both were considered to be the apogee of their vocation.
In all probability, their least known performance was one in which I had a minor part. We had been asked to do a shoot for Show Magazine, a forerunner of the then defunct Vanity Fair, and it was a sort of New York gangster photo story, with Wallach as one of the hoodlums, photographer Jerry Schatzberg and I as two others, with Anne as a glamorous showgirl. Deeply corny, but these two great stars were totally bound up in the silly scenario, with no hint of de haut en bas, while their starry aura remained palpable. It was the way movie stars were, then. Whatever part they played, they somehow had a persona that transcended the role and maintained a continuing universal image. The biggest movie stars were exactly that because whatever part they played they were recognisably themselves, on the screen and equally in public.
Partly due to the fashionable weird genre of films being made nowadays, even the leading players in them are disguised with prosthetics and layers of make-up, while speaking in nigh unintelligible regional/rural accents; and with takes so short and action so abrupt – quite apart from being overlong and the ear-splitting noise – the storyline is usually clear as mud, and they become “characters” rather than icons.
Surely “acting” is better-suited and more appropriate to television. From film stars one wants reassuring recognisable “presence”, one that perhaps only George Clooney has today. In a forthcoming film soon to be made about a couple of Danish artists in the 1920s, the man, to be played by one of our leading British stars, changes from transvestite into a fully-fledged woman. Dedication to craft can go no further, but it will hardly sustain his glamorous aura in the manner of say, Cary Grant. Eli Wallach had that in spades.
It’s hard to believe the government is once more busy making recommendations for the diet of the general populace: high fibre and stuff like that. If those constant TV ads for cereals can’t make the point, it seems unlikely Whitehall will. Decades ago we were told milk was good for us, now it’s drinka-pinta advice all over again. And while everyone who can read knows that “fizzy drinks” are a sugar-filled time bomb, it must be admitted they are rather delicious and refreshing. As a sop to the taxpayer, chancellors lower the price of beer, but beer is one of the most fattening liquids one can drink.
In May this year BBC4 ran a film about 1960s mods and rockers. It was fascinating to see the youth of that period, raised almost exclusively on Vimto, ersatz chocolate and white bread (and I daresay a lot of fags), had beautiful slim figures, glossy hair and perfect complexions. All those ghastly cookery programmes make people think they’ve got to eat all the time. Ban them and anything with MSG, and, for my money, garlic and coriander.
With all the “futbol” hoo-ha in Brazil, it’s easy to overlook the country’s extraordinary and comparatively recent history. It wasn’t always just sambas and sequins. After it was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Rio de Janeiro was an untidy little trading port until Portugal’s king, Dom Joao VI, fleeing Napoleon’s armies, set sail for South America with his family. Though he expected it to be a temporary refuge, the king admired Rio’s setting, and made it his capital in absentia. The city grew and an opera theatre was built. A European “kapellmeister” was needed, and Sigismund Neukomn, a friend of the composer Salieri, was brought over. In his luggage were manuscript versions of music by Mozart and Haydn, heretofore only performed in churches or private palaces. Possibly the first performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Creation heard by a paying public were in Rio’s opera house. That’s a World Cup win.
Nicky Haslam is an interior designer and writer. nh-design.co.uk
David Tang is on leave