Thursday, 3 October 2013

Quicksilver… More (1969)

A fool there was and he made his prayer…
(Even as you or I?)
To a rag and bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool called her his lady fair…
(Even as you or I?)*

There’s a point in More when the main protagonist drunkenly refers to his Germanic tendency to believe that there is a price to be paid for everything and that there is no pleasure without pain.

Many have seen More as a blueprint for endless summer drop-outs and indulgence in search of the unspecific but as Barbet Schroeder says, it is “not so much a tale of our times but a timeless tragedy: a vamp in a new t-shirt…” Hard to compare Mimsy Farmer with Theda Bara but maybe there’s not too much difference between More and A Fool There Was?

Mimsy Farmer
Barbet Schroeder’s first film had more than a hint of autobiography not just in his choice of location: the family home in Ibiza a lime-painted white villa on top of a stunning cliff overlooking the Balearic Sea… He had an affair with a heroin addict who had managed to kick her habit but still attempted to get him to sample the experience: he declined later saying that had they been on Ibiza it may have been more difficult to resist but luckily he was in sober Paris…

Still the Franco-Swiss Schroeder was an adventurer who firmly believed that he had to experience life before making his first movie. Naturally, his male lead in More, Stefan Brückner (Klaus Grünberg), is a recently-graduated German student, who sets out for Paris in search of some life.

Michel Chanderli and Klaus Grünberg wonder who's that girl?
He meets a character called Charlie (Michel Chanderli) who leads him into a life of petty crime so they can get funds. Through Charlie, Stefan also ends up at a party where he meets a beautifully intriguing American girl Estelle Miller (Mimsy Farmer) and, as he says in the intermittent spoken commentary (his diary?), he falls instantly in love (something that also happened to Barbet).

There is some quality in Estelle that compels Stefan to follow but, like quicksilver, she's difficult to pin down... this very quality making her irresistible. So, when she announces that she’s off to Ibiza he agrees to join her…

But by the time Stefan gets to the island – via a superb sweeping panorama of the port – Estelle has seemingly disappeared. He seeks out the German businessman she was supposed to be staying with, “Ernesto” Wolf (Heinz Engelmann) to find him playing darts with Nazi army knives. Herr Wolf doesn’t like to linger on the “old times” but it’s obvious what he did in the war… But now, he runs a hotel and entertains groups of traveling Germans who like to sing the old songs… (the Schroeder family had a somewhat suspicious group of middle-aged Germans who owned a nearby villa).

Wolf claims not to know Estelle’s whereabouts and so Klaus wanders the islands picking up a new friend, Henry (Henry Wolf) who offers him some purple hearts, more evidence of the period's carefree attitude to pharmaceuticals...

By the time Estelle is found, it’s clear that something is wrong. She is pleased and yet not pleased to see Stefan and he becomes possessive: jealous that her relationship with Wolf goes beyond business. He can't resist her indifference... her inconsistency pulls him in.

But Estelle does have feelings for Stefan - maybe she genuinely thinks he can help her break free from the strange grip Wolf has on her, at least for a while. They escape to a remote house (the Schroeder family home) where they begin to experiment with a freer lifestyle and with the drugs Estelle has stolen from her employer. For a while it’s idyllic and then after a visit from Estelle’s girl-friend Cathy (Louise Wink), Stefan learns of their link to “horse”…

Tilting at windmills...

Initially she tells Stefan that she has the habit under control – and she probably has – but when he agrees to try them he becomes quickly hooked. Estelle gets caught on a trip to town and the two end up having to work for Wolf in order to pay him back. For a while things go well and the two even manage a brief LSD-aided period of cold turkey.

But, things unravel as Estelle’s true relationship with Wolf is revealed and Stefan slips further into despair… he sinks lower and lower and ends up making a fatal error in his self-medication…

An age-old tragedy of a good man laid low by the love of a not-so-good woman there are indeed parallels with *Kipling’s The Vampire, the inspiration for Miss Bara’s aforementioned film. But More is a little hipper than that, it takes two to tango after all.

That it’s set against the sunny purity of the island makes events all the more shocking: junkies belong in drab inner cities don’t they? The luscious camerawork (from Néstor Almendros) and the director’s own familiarity bring out the Mediterranean beauty even if there’s always death in paradise.

Then there’s a soundtrack from The Pink Floyd, hipster princes from the age of psychedelia on the lookout for some more serious work and a new direction… Their quickly-compiled song-track is used to create the perfect backdrop to serious summer ’69.

I watched the BFI Dual Disk Blu-ray and DVD set which can be purchased direct from the BFI and many other places besides.

The cinematography is truly stunning and the Blu-Ray transfer does it full justice: any number of freeze-framed shots would do as a poster and you can see why so many have always wanted to be submerged in the blood-warm air of Ibiza. But, as some Germans say, every pleasure does have a price…

More on the soundtrack…

It’s interesting that Schroeder uses his soundtrack almost as “found sound” in exactly the way that the Floyd use such snippets in their own music from a wasp on Grantchester Meadows to a helicopter on the  The Happiest Days of Our Lives, I believe.... He wanted to use their compositions to flavour the narrative and not to descend from on high to add artificial definition. He feels that this was especially effective when the couple play with mercury (Quicksilver) and when Stefan is lying in a stoned daze burning his shirt as his cigarette falls (the mini-epic Cirrus Minor).

On a trip to Cirrus Minor...
Overall there is more music heard than in their next collaboration (on La Vallee) and what there is seems to be largely a different mix. Long ago…as a Floyd completest I used to swap cassette tapes (see Wiki youngsters!) of obscure material and More was one of the most treasured for this reason: there’s even a completely un-released song, Seabirds, featured extensively in the party sequence when Stefan meets Estelle.

As with the later soundtrack, the time constraints seemed to have freed up the band’s creativity and they produce a varied, fresh-sounding set of songs, a number of which remained in their live set for years…initially as part of their proto-type long-form pieces, The Man and The Journey and later as extended pieces on their own: Cymbeline (which featured a lengthy mid-section with quadraphonically focused feet walking around the concert halls…) and Green is the Colour which flowed into Careful With That Axe, Eugene

The band were reaching out to find a new course after their leader, Syd Barrett had left and 1969 was, in my opinion, one of their most active and creative years as a result producing the soundtrack for Zabriskie Point as well as More and a sprawling double LP, Ummagumma, the live half of which remains one of their high-points and which reflected their endless touring and live experimentation.

Schroeder certainly benefited and no doubt the soundtrack has generated more interest in his film as the years have passed. As he says in the “making of” interview on the BFI DVD, the local tours mention the film but then they also mention the band. The lads didn’t visit the island during the shooting though and instead worked off a 35mm rough cut when recording in London.

The irony is perhaps that the majority of the Floyd were more drinkers than drug-takers especially after Syd Barrett crashed out, the victim of drug-induced psychosis…arguably. This didn’t stop their music being the soundtrack for many a trip before and since and it is in this social context that More uses their songs so well.

The re-mastered soundtrack is available from the usual online retailers, one of their most under-rated efforts and well worth a listen on its own perhaps over a cup of tea?

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