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Films I Didn’t Sit Through #1

May 6, 2012

An occasional series

#1: Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (dir. Whitney Smith)

It’s not often that one feels moved to offer the praise, ‘Nicely underplayed, Liza Minnelli.’ Yet such is the reaction when watching  the first scene of Ultrasuede, a film purporting to be the story of singular 1970s fashion designer Halston but which, it swiftly transpires, is a 89-minute mirror held up by filmmaker Whitney Smith to himself. He kicks off by interviewing Minnelli, Halston’s closest friend, in a manner which — because of Smith’s amateurishness, his peculiar Jason Bateman-esque hairpiece and the presence of Ms Minnelli — has the air of a spoof cut from Arrested Development. “What did you sing at [Halston’s] funeral?” he asks Minnelli, who is immediately outraged: “No, I didn’t sing! It wasn’t about me, it was about Halston.” “It was very moving,” Smith mumblingly affirms, which confuses things further. If he knew enough to know the funeral was “moving” why did he believe Liza sang? Did he do any research?

We cut then to a handicammed scene in which Whitney — whose whole appearance has changed, such that he now resembles a pound-store employee desperately trying to convince himself he’s the spitting image of Ryan Gosling — interviews his mother about his own obsession with Halston. This was where the Monkey and I lunged for the remote control, understanding we’d learn little to nothing about an iconic fashion designer and far more than anyone needs to about our bargain-basement auteur. I love the idea of Smith watching back a rough cut of his film and failing to see that by opening with Minelli’s tacit warning to him — ‘Don’t make it all about you’ — would ensure that his project would, from the outset, look as egotistical and damned as possible.

#2: Unhappy Birthday (dir. Mike Matthews & Mark Harriott)

Fascinating fact: I once attended a dinner party where David Paisley, star of… um, indie horror film Unhappy Birthday was also a guest. This doesn’t have any bearing on the film in question, which is some sort of ghost-story/road-trip/horrible family revelations/soft porn mishmash, except that on the evidence of Paisley’s receiving top billing, I was lucky to escape said party without being dragooned into participating. Alongside Paisley — who, like anyone who has lived in Glasgow for more than five years, has appeared in Weegie soap River City — we find a hapless actress made up, for no apparent reason, as Marmalade Atkins; a male human being — let’s not devalue the word ‘actor’ — who, called upon to deliver the deathless porn-classic line “It’s getting hot in here” (followed by his removing his t-shirt), inexplicably did not storm off-set; and various bit-parts clearly played by friends (former friends, perhaps) of the duo co-wrote and co-directed this… thing. One of these bit-part actors, “Suspicious landlady”, manages to do something one might hitherto have thought  impossible: opening a door without making it convincing.

Not to be total slaves cliché, but the Monkey and I did fast-forward to the so-called titillating bit of the film, which unsurprisingly follows on from the shirt-removing scene above, and which intercuts, to numbing effect, a reasonably explicit gay sex scene and Marmalade Atkins’s own, um, self-exploration. Much of these two scenes focus on the nipples of those involved, which had the unfortunate, if unanticipated, effect of putting me off the midget gems I was eating at the time. In its favour, Unhappy Birthday does have some atmospheric establishing shots of the Scottish landscape, which it’s pretty difficult to get wrong, and its own website sensibly discloses the fact it was made for less than the price of my packet of sweets.

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