Wednesday, 1 September 2010

If I've got me, I've got rainbows

Anthony Newley was an extraordinarily talented man, even if he did say so himself.

By the end of the sixties, Newley had already lived several lives and had several careers, pinging like a performance enhanced pinball from child star to pop idol, songwriter to Broadway sensation, nobody to big head, accumulating money and women and plaudits and brickbats and influencing the young David Bowie on the way.

All of his trials and triumphs found their way into his cinematic magnum opus 'Can Hieronymus Merkin Forget Mercy Humppe & Find True Happiness?’, released in 1969, just in time to be possibly the most self-indulgent film of an extremely self-indulgent decade.

Newley leaves no stone unturned in his search for the brutal truth, no aspect of this business we call show undissected: the Fellini-esque farce exposes all - his affairs, his lies, his ambition, his arse - it even uses the death of his disabled son as a plot point.

Along for the ride are his then wife Joan Collins (as the flatteringly named Polyester Poontang), Playboy centrefold Connie Kreski and Bruce Forsyth. Yes, Bruce Forsyth. The action is observed by Newley & Collins real life children, Sacha & Tara, and a chorus of critics who provide an ironic commentary to the proceedings.

On it’s release Newley found himself at war with the real critics, his wife (Collins has said that the production was the final straw for their marriage) and, oddly, Malta, who provided the location and, as a conservative and Catholic country, were not at all pleased with all the bums and blasphemy in the film. In the end, all Newley’s hard work went towards a box office disaster that has become shorthand for cinematic excess and egotism and, ultimately, disturbed the upward momentum of his career for several years.

In this scene, a white robed Newley climbs a mountain and conducts a one-sided dialogue with God before coming to the conclusion that there is no God, only the individual. If it were anyone else, you might take this as a moment of resignation, of existential angst. In Newley’s hands, however, you get the impression that he’s only too pleased there’s a vacancy and is more than happy to fill it. The clip isn’t of the greatest of quality, as the film has been barely available since its release, but it seems somehow fitting given the overlooked and unloved status of the source material.

A quick note on Newley as a singer: an amazingly expressive performer, his fruity voice is a thing of odd wonder. Rather like the Larry the Lamb on helium larynxes of The Gibb Brothers, you always wonder how Newley got so far with, frankly, such a silly voice. As with The Bee Gees, of course, it’s part of the enigma, the inexplicable element that contributes to their unique genius. In ‘I’m All I Need’, Tony goes for broke, singing his tiny heart out to, well, no-one, no-one at all.


Glimmung said...

I've always had a soft spot for Newley, but only for his egocentric private life, the warp 10 musical kitsch factor and his influence on The Dame. Maybe its time he was recast as a serious artist.

BTW, good to have you back. Almost as if you'd never been away ;)

Reimer said...

God protect us from the atheism of Luvvies.

Paul Gatenby said...

Part of the problem is that the songs are 50s show-tuney, yet his ideas and the images in his film are pretty out there. Maybe if Tone had got himself some Scott Walker type arrangements he'd be better remembered today. And my dad's mate Peter Overend broke Newley's nose playing cricket.