Transcript of a speech given by Mr. SJ Fish at the inaugral meeting of the Dartmouth Park Avenue Film Club, Saturday February 2nd 2009.
Attendees: Mr C Avrille-Gothard, VSOP. Mr. N Auld BSO, RCA. Mr J Levison (“The Lion of Kabul.” of music hall fame).
(Some moments pause while devilled kidneys, champagne and strong tea is served).
(roar of approbation, to the accompaniment of Mr Levison’s batman O’Doon playing an Irish reel on the Jug)
Superficially, these films have very little in common other than the fact that they were both disasters for their creators, later recognised as masterpieces . Touch of Evil is a hyper-seedy noir set in Mexico that seethes with ambiguity, marks the path to 1970’s cinema and – despite a quite shockingly stellar cast – emphatically rammed a nail into Orson Welles’ Hollywood coffin by being re-cut (as usual) by the studio and released as a B movie (bottom of the bill to The Female Animal, a film which has subsequently failed to trouble cinema historians overly). A Canterbury Tale is a wartime oddity, which is pretty much unclassifiable; lyrical, philosophically complex, and has a quite obvious amateur actor in the main role. It was, as a result, the first critical and commercial disaster of Michael Powell and Emmerich Pressburger’s careers together and was only available in a bowdlerised US re-cut until the late 1970s. The versions we have today are as close to the original cuts as possible, though unfortunately Welles’ original version was never actually completed.
That said, there’s a bit more to the selection of these two films than the fact that a few of you haven’t seen them and I really fancied watching them this afternoon (although I really wouldn’t underestimate that as a factor). Unlike many films, even great films, both A Canterbury Tale and Touch of Evil show a real understanding of the potential of cinema as an art-form rather than a medium. Which could explain their poor initial reception, to be honest. Both of them are the work of geniuses at the top of their game. And, luckily, both of them are in my opinion loads of fun. As a side-point, both of them have absolutely ROCKING first scenes.
On which note, gentlemen, charge your glasses, sit back, and prepare to be taken on a journey from the hell of the mexican border to the heaven of the Kent countryside, from Marlene Deitrich to Dennis Price and from a ticking bomb to a performance of JS Bach. I give you: Touch of Evil and A Canterbury Tale.
(Mr Fish sits, to the sound of hearty shuffling of order papers and a round of rambunctious hear hears)