Camp David

CAMP DAVID AUGUST 2005

By • Aug 1st, 2005 •

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VISCONTI’S WIDOW

If life can in fact imitate art then the notorious relationship between director Luchino Visconti and his protégé/actor Helmut Berger continues a tradition of older man/younger man mentor relationships. Consider Nijinsky and Diaghilev or, with more tragic consequences, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Lord Douglas.

In 1984 Helmut arrived in West Hollywood to begin a recurring role on television in the ABC mega/hit “Dynasty”, which would have hopefully given him a new fan base and career boost. At that time I was writing for John Russell Taylor’s revamped ‘Films and Filming’ based in the UK. Berger had been featured on its cover a few times in the past, giving John the idea of “bringing Helmut Berger full circle to where he is today.” At Taylor’s request I began to actively entice Helmut into an interview for the next issue. Having heard different versions of what happened after Visconti’s death and the profound effect it would have on Helmut Berger’s life and career I wasn’t sure he would be interested in discussing the present much less the past. Through contacts like Maggie Abbott, a former agent from Berger’s salad days in London, I tracked him down and began a very complicated series of phone calls and missed appointments, yet I remained steadfast in my determination to have a “Helmut Berger cover’ regardless of the obstacles.

Finally we met at his rented flat on Larrabee St in the heart of “Boy’s town”’ to audiotape the glory that was Berger. His legendary charm was very much in evidence that afternoon as we began discussing his past life. When we reached the subject of ASH WEDNESDAY, the film with Elizabeth Taylor, he laughed “I like alcohol and so does Elizabeth. We had a great time except for her husband, Richard Burton, who became very jealous of me and behaved badly. The story of what went on off-camera was far more exotic then what was captured on film.”

The conversation then moved on to his current status as a European trying the waters of American sitcom TV… Helmut, or “Muti” to his friends, thought the whole idea of ‘Dynasty’ amusing as it was called “Denver’ in Germany, and being Helmut had no real concept of its importance to his career. Helmut felt like an outsider during filming because his first day on set Joan Collins greeted him with great fanfare in front of the entire cast and crew proclaiming “Thank God another European,” isolating him from everyone in his mind’s eye. Later on Helmut would bond with co-stars Linda Evans and Pamela Bellwood, taking them to lunch and parties while he remained on the show. We talked for what seemed like hours in his apartment taping the interview in between bottles of wine and music. He loved The Rolling Stones whose single “Undercover of the Night’ had just come out so he played it over and over for the lyrics “All the young men they’ve been rounded up”! Helmut Berger at that time was still a wild child in the city, moving fast and looking pretty…

Afterwards we stayed in touch I even ran lines with him for ‘Dynasty’ at one point. He would not play the Hollywood game, thus quickly soured on the idea of television much like Peter O’Toole in MY FAVORITE YEAR. After all he was a movie star in Europe so why be anything less in the states!! In spite of any advice to the contrary Helmut Berger’s recurring role on ‘Dynasty’ came to a premature end and with it his time in West Hollywood. Helmut phoned a few times and then he was gone. Once in a while a stranger would arrive at my door fresh from the continent with a message from Muti: “Here is someone you should know” and usually they were… Berger returned to Europe filming a horror film entitled FACELESS for Jess Franco and, lastly, almost unrecognizable in his role for THE GODFATHER PART III. 1998 was the year Helmut penned his memoirs in German entitled “Ich” which candidly revealed all regarding his life and loves! In it Helmut refers to himself at 32 years of age, as “Visconti’s widow, having been seduced by the great director during the filming of VAGHE STELLE DELL’ORSA in 1964, Helmut would share Visconti’s villa three months later, embarking on a love affair that would last 12 years. There is a wonderful site dedicated to Berger on the internet called “The Salon of Helmut Berger” it is in English and Japanese. I highly recommend it to all Camp David readers for the wealth of information and images that explain why this personality is a unique and fascinating icon of that era of excess that gave the world Warhol and Studio 54.

CLAUDIA MAKES WAVES!

The beautiful and exciting Claudia Cardinale arrived in Hollywood for a whirlwind four-day tour. Claudia accepted an invitation to Los Angeles from the Istituto Italiano Di Cultura and The Hollywood Foreign Press who were presenting her with a magnificent Deruta plate based on one of the most famous paintings by Botticelli in recognition of a life dedicated to the cinema. She presided over a luncheon her first day in town and Camp David was lucky enough to be invited to interview her at length. Claudia loves to say “Fantastic” in response to her opinion of her directors as well as her leading men. My first question was how she managed to get along with the out of control Klaus Kinski? Claudia replied, “Well I love mad crazy people so I made my peace with Klaus on our very first day of shooting FITZCARRALDO. He had to be the center of attention always, yet with me he was a generous actor who allowed me to be part of his reality for the time we were working.” The Italian actress has worked with the most important Italian directors from Leone to Fellini and yet it was Luchino Visconti with whom she had the deepest bond. “Visconti was a nobleman who worshipped at the altar of beauty” She went on to tell me that Visconti invited her to travel with him to New York and Rome on many occasions, sometimes acting as the romantic companion of Alain Delon, even though they was no romance between the two actors, as Delon was the object of Visconti’s affection. Visconti was so old world regarding his sexuality that he preferred to remain closeted most of his life. The next evening Claudia attended a special screening of VAGHE STELLE DELL ‘ORSA, a film that evokes another time and place for Cardinale. Afterwards she observed “Every frame of this film is Visconti. I feel his breath on my neck! It is for me beautiful yet sad at the same time.” Cardinale dominates the film for the first 30 minutes, however the film changes focus once Jean Sorel’s character is introduced. Sorel is lit and photographed like the stars

in MGM’S heyday to reveal a male beauty not unlike Delon or Berger in other Visconti films. Perhaps Visconti had set out to make a film of SANDRA tailored for Cardinale’s exquisite beauty yet it is Jean Sorel as her incestuous brother who captivates the screen as well as the sub-conscious, with Visconti’s own homo erotic subtext which he invests in most all of his films. Cardinale spoke of the difference in Fellini’s approach, which was to improvise scenes and be of the moment whereas Visconti scripted even the smallest detail and would allow for nothing less than total obedience on his sets. The second film screened that evening was DON’T MAKE WAVES, a 60’s look at Muscle beach, of interest only to see just how beautiful the late Sharon Tate was early in her career. Cardinale declined to watch it as “It was just too long ago and I want to see Los Angeles as it is today.” Claudia Cardinale is a true survivor and remains a vital and captivating star into the 21st century.

IT’S IN THE TREES!!!

Tomahawk Press has done film buffs a real service in publishing film books from the National Museum of Photography film & Television. The first one that has come to my attention “Beating the Devil” The making of NIGHT OF THE DEMON is quite fantastic because it showcases one of the masterpieces of the Horror genre, Jacques Tourneur’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON or CURSE OF THE DEMON as it was known stateside. Long a favorite with both critics and fans alike this is the first ever book to make a detailed study of its production with chapters on all aspects of its reception and the steady climb through the years to its current status as a classic. Kudos to author Tony Earnshaw for his research and lifelong admiration for a great film. His scholarship is most commendable.

I was most interested in reading about the friction between the director and the producer, Hal B. Chester. The detailed notes and observations by cast and crew gives one a fly on the wall perspective of that magic time in 1957 when actor Dana Andrews flew into the United Kingdom and made one of his greatest films. The book does not sidestep the actor’s struggle with the bottle or the director’s unhappiness with the insertion of a monster that has stood the test of time as one of the most terrifying creatures in fantastic cinema.

YOUR BREATH STINKS BUT I DIG IT!!!

Jordan Christopher gets down with his group,

One of the great worst films of the seventies has to be a film entitled ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO! with an amazing cast starting with screen legend Jennifer Jones, Roddy McDowell, Lou Rawls and Jordan Christopher as a Morrison style rock God who beds most of the cast as the film uncoils to its mind-numbing conclusion. A very young Holly Near, now a folk singer who disowns this aspect of her life, plays Jennifer’s overweight daughter who is deflowered at her coming out party by Jordan Christopher’s shirtless rocker complete with skintight leather pants. The one-liners are non-stop; at one point during Holly’s seduction Jordan French kisses her and then says “Your breath stinks…but I dig it” One can only wonder How director/writer Robert Thom convinced AIP to green light such a project…perhaps the success of WILD IN THE STREETS is to blame.

Robert Thom must have been doing tons of drugs when he penned this opus and every line seems like it emerged from an Opium frenzy. One of the characters asks Roddy if he is a homosexual to which he replies, “Man, sometimes when I look at even a carrot I get turned on!” Jennifer Jones is not spared anything either; at one point she reveals that as a young struggling actress she made ‘Stag films’ “”I made over 30 of them and never faked an orgasm.” This film has to be seen to be believed!! After the Manson killings the film was released a second time in the same year as CULT OF THE DAMNED. The film is best described as Pasolini’s TEORAMA remade as a beach party flick…Camp David is prepping a campaign to see this masterpiece on DVD…

TRIPLE THREAT

In the last few installments of Camp David we try and spotlight independent filmmakers who with the proper breaks will begin careers in this city of the angels…. Mark Vasconcellos is on his way with the DVD release of TRIPLE THREAT, a film made for well under $20.000 which Mark wrote, directed and produced, not to mention acts a small part in as well!! Pre-production took him 6 months working night and day, shooting the entire film over the course of a year. The result is a superior looking film with talented amateurs that pays homage to the world of espionage, Charlie’s Angels and James Bond.

Mark has a very cool website over at www.bigbask.com I suggest anyone wishing to get involved in Independent filmmaking give Mark Vasconcellas a chance. Believe me you won’t regret it.

Remember until next time “May all your dreams be in CinemaScope and 70mm”

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