Friday, 19 June 2009

For I was an earthly knight

'Tam Lin’ is an old Scottish song the story of a girl and her lover: a half-elfin man enslaved by the Faerie Queen, and the ordeal they must undertake to save his life and secure his freedom.

‘The Ballad Of Tam Lin’ (1969) is an attempt at updating the themes of the song for a contemporary cinema going audience.

The results are interesting, but not entirely successful, but I like the fact that they tried, even though it was always going to be a punt (’What shall we go and see at the drive in, Bobby?’ ‘Well, how about ‘Tam Lin’? It’s a groovy take on an old Scotch folk tune that not many people are familiar with.’ ‘Sounds swell! I love you, Bobby’).

Ava Gardner (pushing 50 and absolutely gorgeous) plays Michaela Cazaret, an ‘immensely rich’ widow who maintains a coterie of bright (and not so bright) young things: sharp suited swingers and swingeritas who drive fast cars in convoy, take endless photographs of each other and are always on the hunt for the next party, the next kick, the next kink. Mickey’s current favourite is young Tom Lynn (played by swarthy Ian McShane), and she keeps him in her thrall with a combination of sex, drink, drugs, bribery, enchanted sunglasses (you heard) and good old fashioned charisma (‘It’s like breathing pure oxygen: you learn not to care, you don’t care’).

All is well with until they all relocate to a large country house in the Highlands, where the groovy group spend their time lounging around, bouncing on spacehoppers and reading the tarot (and ‘all that gypsy trash’) whilst a man with an afro plays the vibes on the verandah. Into this decadence steps Vicar’s daughter Janet (a young Stephanie Beacham): she catches Tom’s frisbee, and they fall instantly in love. Michaela takes young Tom’s swing in affections very well, considering: “I give you one week’s truce, then I hunt you down and kill you” (we’ve all had break ups like that), setting the scene for an unusual and slightly bewildering climax where Tom is pursued in slow motion by an angry mob of hysterical trendies through a lysergically lit swamp, all the while fighting off a massive snake, turning into a bear and catching fire as he tries to break the enchantment, with only the faithful Janet to help him.

‘Tam Lin’ is pretty slow moving, but it has some great moments and some interesting ideas and images, although I could have done without seeing Ian McShane’s arse. Actor and ape impersonator Roddy McDowall directed, and does well, but he never chose to repeat the experience. Redolent of a time when films were made that wouldn’t even get through the studio gates today, ‘Tam Lin’ is, ultimately, a fascinating failure, but is well worth watching if you get the opportunity and have ninety minutes at your disposal.

The folk songs for the film were provided by The Pentangle, with orchestral themes by Stanley Myers and a cameo from Salena Jones. I don’t have a copy of the soundtrack, unfortunately (I don’t think there is one), but I hope this amazing version of ‘Tam Lin’ as recorded by the mighty Fairport Convention will suffice: it does for me very nicely.

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