Saturday, 29 February 2020

Oscars in Heaven - Nick Garlick

The 29th is my day for a blog, and I had completely forgotten that this was a leap year until I woke up this morning and looked at the date. So I haven't prepared a text. Add to that  the fact that I currently have a new ms. out to a few publishers and I am in the nail-biting, can't concentrate-on-a-thing stage. I don't want to leave a blank page though, so I'm going to hope that fellow ABBAs will forgive me if I post a little something I write a few years ago, just to amuse myself in between 'proper' writing. Perhaps it'll amuse a few others at the end of this wet grey month.

As much as I enjoy watching Peter Sellers, and as much as I like his work in the 1968 film The Party, the performance I really want to see whenever I put on the DVD is Steve Franken’s. 

Franken plays Levinson. (That's him in the picture, clutching - don't ask why - the woman in soap suds.) Levinson is a butler at a swanky Hollywood get-together. But he’s not hoping to pass on a script or talk his way into an audition. He’s just there to knock back every drink he can get his hands on. And before the film’s even got up comic steam, he’s already bobbing and weaving around the set like a man on an invisible, sagging tightrope. 

But all the while he’s doing his best to remain the epitome of professional poise, even while his torso seems to be moving in the opposite direction to his legs and his eyebrows dance around on his face like a pair of drugged caterpillars. 

My favourite scene is the sit-down dinner. He lurches around the table passing out the salad with his bare hands, trips over a guest bending down, pokes the neck of a wine bottle through a woman’s hair to fill her glass, and hides a plate of roast quail under his jacket when the headwaiter comes out of the kitchen to fix him with a furious glare. 

In the best moment of all, Sellers surreptitiously points out that there’s another roast quail - yes, a quail - fixed to a fellow guest’s tiara. When Franken looks up and across the table at this his forehead tightens, his head pegs back a notch or two on his neck and his eyes widen in bleary astonishment as if he’s thinking, ‘Well, you don’t see that every day!’ 

It’s probably not surprising this performance got lost. The Party wasn’t a financial success, Peter Sellers was the star and besides, Franken was ‘just’ playing a drunk. He died in 2012, at the age of 80. Let’s hope they give out Oscars in heaven.

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