Thursday, 19 November 2009

Rainbow Quarrier

not exactly the Marlboro man
I recently watched two films from the late 60s, Wonderwall and the recently re-discovered Separation, the film written by and starring Jane Arden and directed by Jack Bond. The films are poles apart in tone, Wonderwall being a quintessential piece of period whimsy and Separation a film in which the swinging sixties collides with dislocated film editing and theatre of the absurd alienation to provide a portrait of mental fragmentation which dramatises the ideas of a nascent feminism. In fact, the two films aren’t thematically so far apart, both featuring the subjective viewpoints of characters who are undergoing what amounts to a mid-life breakdown. Partly as a result of this subjectivity, both also display a characteristically 60s blurring of the divide between reality and dream-sequence fantasy. But what struck me was the presence in both films of the actor Iain Quarrier. I realised that he'd appeared in several of my favourite films from the era (and one of my least favourite – but we’ll come to that later). His character is essentially the same in these two films, and indeed in all his cinematic roles. He reflects the gilded youth of swinging sixties London, the glittering Bohemian inner circle of beautiful people. He is an immaculate dandy, a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’, clearly caring a great deal about his appearance and the way he is perceived but affecting an air of disdainful, disinterested cool.

The two best known anecdotes in which he features involve him being hit, and its perhaps not difficult to see why people of a certain generation or frame of mind might feel the need to strike out at him. The characters which he plays are generally objects of desire, but aloof an unreliable ones (hommes fatales?) In general, he exudes the hauteur displayed by characters played by some of the most beautiful English and continental actresses, including his fellow Polanski collaborator Catherine Deneuve, who it seems unlikely he didn’t know. His characters are generally all too well aware of their charms, and casual in their use of them. As such, he is representative (perhaps even more so than Terence Stamp) of the dissolving of the hardened distinctions between the masculine and the feminine which began to take place in the 60s (at least on the surface, and at certain social levels).

Seeing the future
In Separation, he initially represents the freedom from responsibility which the younger generation in the sixties sought. He is the childlike, carefree man who plays with his action man diver in the bath and offers Jane Arden’s disturbed middle-aged woman an escape route back to an untroubled state of innocence. But by the end of the film, he has become a figure of menace, and the Holland Park Eden through which they had previously cavorted in the prescribed Richard Lester manner becomes a maze of trees and fenced paths through which she is stalked. In Wonderwall, Jane Birkin is driven to attempt suicide by his abandonment of her as soon as she reveals her pregnancy.

A stroll down Portobello Road
Quarrier, despite his association with the time and place of London in the late 60s, was in fact born in Canada. He found himself in England when its capital was enjoying its brief flowering as the epicentre of worldwide cool. It was clearly the place to be for an aspiring actor, and he made the most of the opportunities which were available to him. He made a film in 1964 called The Fledglings, which I’ve never seen and which to my knowledge has never been released on video or dvd. I’m guessing it’s no classic, although its story of two hustling movie producers trying to get an American producer to fund their picture sounds prescient of Quarrier’s later forays into production. Their use of a model (played by Julia White) to achieve such ends makes it sound like the sort of fare which might have been destined for the rather seedy cinema ‘clubs’ which were springing up around Soho at the time. The Allmovie guide review (pretty much the only place where you’ll find anything written about the film) is pretty much an object lesson in damning through utter indifference. ‘Some distance removed from good’, it says, ‘but it has its moments here and there’.

Quarrier evidently soon established himself as a central figure in the metropolitan demi-monde of the era’s in-crowd blend of the dazzling and dodgy. Roman Polanski, freshly arrived in the capital after the success of his first feature Knife in the Water, and ready to make his next film for Compton Pictures, rooted in the Soho world alluded to above, was glad of Quarrier’s help in introducing him to this world. His portrayal of him in his autobiography positions him in the lineage of fin-de-siecle decadants or twenties bright young things; a product of those decades when the younger generation is burning with an energy to live and create, partly in anticipation of an imminent fall. Many of the best-remembered figures from these heightened eras are remembered as much for what they did as for what creative works they left behind; the carefully crafted personality and social act as performance. Polanski describes him as ‘a tall, good-looking Canadian who gate-crashed my own first party with a luscious girl on each arm and a tiny puppy nestling in his jacket. Though only on the fringes of London showbiz, Iain Quarrier was very much at the centre of the London scene, and I profited a lot from his social know-how; his almost uncanny knowledge of who, where and what was in at any given moment’.

Being told where to go in Cul-de-Sac
Polanski cast him in two of his films, Cul-de-Sac and The Fearless Vampire Killers. Cul-de-Sac. Cul-de-Sac took him away from London to the isolated island of Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) off the Northumbrian coast. He plays a small role as the cuckolding lover of Francoise Dorleac’s Teresa, with whom he is first seen by Lionel Stander’s interloping gangster lying indolently amongst the dunes. Again, he is the beautiful youth who offers a bit of guilt and responsibility-free carnal play for the female character, and who affects an air of cultivated boredom; everything is simply too tiresome to expend any energy on. The older generation involved with the film didn’t seem to take too well to Quarrier’s youthful anomie. In the brief reminiscing documentary which accompanies the dvd release, producer Gene Gutowski calls him ‘a layabout’. Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, in an anecdote which bears signs of being a little too well-worn in its airing, tells of the time he felt driven to sock him one over derogatory remarks he made regarding Donald Pleasance’s wife’s age. According to Taylor, Polanski wasn’t displeased by such treatment, although this may simply be in line with the discomfort he reportedly enjoyed creating on set. It should be said that such anecdotage is rather unbalanced by the absence of any counterpoint-of-view from its object.

Herbert von Krolock - pale and interesting
Whatever Polanski might have felt about Quarrier, he worked with him once more on The Fearless Vampire Killers. Here, he displayed a delicate comedic touch as the gay vampiric offspring of Ferdy Mayne’s Count von Krolock. Yes, the character is something of a stereotype (at one point we see him mincing down the corridor) although in a broad comedy this is to expected. But Quarrier’s eschewal of camp queening in favour of restraint, and his nuanced delivery of his dialogue in a world-weary, archly aristocratic manner inflected with East European tones makes the character all the more amusing. His reading from Alfred’s (Polanski’s character) little book of romantic etiquette is particularly funny. Quarrier is given a look of elegantly sensual dissipation in this film, his cheeks and eye sockets hollowed. His brocaded frock coats and frilled shirts with extravagant lace cuffs are a rare excursion beyond 60s high fashion, and make him look rather like a taller Brian Jones. You can imagine he’d have made a rather dashing Doctor Who, too, albeit a rather lackadaisical one. Quarrier also gets to show his athletic side, as he chases the hapless Alfred through the icy labyrinth of corridors in the Count’s castle, culminating in an impressive skid and crash into a collapsing four poster bed.

Reading from the book of love
Quarrier was back to familiar London territory for his next film, Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s experimental work Separation. As previously mentioned, he plays the youthful lover once more, good for a bit of fun but fundamentally feckless and undependable. At one point, he is portrayed as if he is a daring jewel thief, making a rather impressive (and potentially very dangerous) leap between rooftops. Quarrier clearly had no problem with doing his own stunts. He also travels across the Thames astride an iron girder suspended by the arm of the last surviving steam crane at the time, before joining Jane Arden for a swift half at the Royal Oak in Isleworth. They sail off down the river on a Thames barge in a scene which is like an Anglicised version of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante. Director Jack Bond’s highly engaging commentary on his film, which he is clearly revisiting and reminiscing upon for the first time in a while, sheds some light on Quarrier, as we shall see, as well as informing us of the settings for various scenes. Further acrobatics take place in Richmond swimming pool, where Quarrier takes a leap from the top diving board, fully clothed in pin-stripe suit and hat. Given Bond’s emphasis on the fashionable boutiques and tailors from which the characters’ clothing comes, this was clearly some sacrifice, and the shot was presumably one of the last made with Quarrier on the film.

Doing his own stunts
Elsewhere, this immaculately tailored outfit is covered in outdoor sequences by what Bond wryly informs us is a wolfskin coat. In scenes which are fascinating for the background details of the era, Quarrier and Arden can be seen driving through Kensington in a Ford Galaxie, briefly stopping in Sloane Square to pick up some flowers; browsing along the Portobello Road antique market; and cycling through the Little Venice area (Quarrier) and Holland Park (Arden – with Quarrier in playful pursuit). Later, in a very intense and powerful scene, Quarrier and Arden’s character’s husband (played by David de Keyser – who provided the voice of Dracula in Hammer’s ill-advised martial arts crossover Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, no less) lean in close on either side as she sits on a swing in Mortlake park, providing the externalised voices of inner conflict and self-negation which are tearing her apart. The scene is brilliantly played, with Quarrier now becoming genuinely hateful, and is undeniably given added weight by the hindsight of our knowledge of Arden’s suicide in 1982. Once more, Quarrier’s easy charms can swiftly become a threatening force.

Vocal assault
It was through Roman Polanski and his screenwriter Gerard Brach that Quarrier came to be cast in Wonderwall, which was also the third film in which he’d worked with the redoubtable Irish stage actor Jack Macgowran, a favourite of Samuel Beckett. There is, indeed, something Beckett-like about MacGowran’s performance in the film, with his retreat into a solipsistic world, his increasingly dust-covered appearance as his DIY efforts reach new extremes and his barked non-sequiturs and failures to communicate. Quarrier gets to play perhaps his definitive swinging sixties dandy, getting through as many costume changes as Jane Birkin, who plays his model girlfriend, Penny Lane (I know, it’s terrible!) Birkin had almost appeared in Separation. Jack Bond notes that the occupants of the car which pulls up outside the then trendy Kensington restaurant Alvaro’s, and which is moved on by an old-fashioned English bobby, were Birkin and then-husband John Barry. Still, we do get Michael York chatting in the background, in a genuine (and youthful) swinging sixties precursor of his Basil Exposition persona. In an interesting inversion of the stock character of the time, as typified by David Hemmings in Blow Up, Quarrier plays a fashion model rather than a photographer; more Zoolander than Austin Powers. This gives him the opportunity to pose in several fab tableaux.

Iain and Jane
He first appears with his photographer who seems to be accessorising an apple green suit with a car of matching colour. In a film which emphasises the separation of its two main protagonists (Birkin’s Penny and MacGowran’s Professor) by the eponymous barrier, Quarrier does have a few bits of dialogue, both on the phone (a conversation conducted whilst he poses as a cowboy on a rocking horse) and with MacGowran. In these, he carries off a creditable Liverpool accent, a nod to the film’s soundtrack composer, perhaps: one George Harrison. Quarrier’s character is vain and fickle (again) and carries a large portable cut-out of himself like a portable ego. When he creeps out on the sleeping Birkin in the middle of the night, having discovered that she is pregnant, he makes sure to pick this up before closing the door behind him.

With his ego tucked under his arm
Wonderwall, with its Beatles connection, provides a link with Quarrier’s next film, Jean Luc Godard’s Sympathy For the Devil. Godard agreed to come over to England to make a film if he could get The Beatles or The Rolling Stones involved. Both Lennon and Jagger were interested, the former voicing his opinion in his usual witty and amusing way (‘who’s doing this fucking Godard film – the Stones or us?’ cf. Mim Scala’s ‘Diary of a Teddy Boy), but it was the Stones who were eventually chosen. Quarrier co-produced the film with a scion of the aristocracy, Jack Pearson, with whom he had set up a company called Cupid Productions. Jack Bond says that it was him who introduced Quarrier to Pearson. It’s a classic 60s partnership, a mingling of disparate worlds, with the aristocracy connecting with the increasingly glittering milieu of popular culture. Quarrier’s centrality to the scene of swinging sixties London, now entering a phase in which its successful participants were consolidating their considerable wealth, and the evident social skills which had got him there must have been the key in securing the Stones’ participation. He also, as producer, helped stump up some of the cash to finance the picture. Perhaps Godard should have borne this in mind whilst venting his later hissy fits. Or perhaps that’s just outmoded ‘bourgeois’ thinking on my part.

No love was lost
The film itself is one of the most tedious I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. I watched it at the Scala Cinema in London in the 80s in a triple bill with If… and Blow Up, two films which I saw frequently in screenings there, and which remain favourites to this day. For all its many virtues (and it’s a cinema for which I, and many others, have incredibly fond memories) it had a rather cavernous acoustic, and prints were rather well-worn (because well-loved). This made the endless readings which punctuate the film’s scenes of musical rehearsal even more insufferable. Having fast-forwarded through the Times free DVD giveaway, it became evident that even a sound and projection system of immaculate digital clarity would have failed to alleviate the excruciating boredom of these scenes, whose sound is haphazardly recorded anyway. The Stones’ endless rehearsal of fragments of the title song have a certain fly-on-the-wall interest, but by the end, repetition leaves you hoping to never hear it again for some time to come.

Quarrier himself was not due to appear in the film. His role was to have been played by Terence Stamp, but he ended up working with Pasolini on Theorem instead. Stamp also appeared in Fellini’s segment of Spirits of the Dead in that year. Godard would have made a good Euro art director hat trick. Quarrier’s character is billed on the imdb as ‘fascist porno book seller’, which is perhaps not the most tempting role he’d ever been offered. His scene sees him in a lurid purple outfit completely at odds with the seedy bookshop in which he reads in a plainly unrehearsed fashion form the turgid prose of Mein Kampf. He is obliged to do little more than this, occasionally taking magazines or books from customers, shouting out ‘Jackie’ to his assistant who is typing in the corner and giving a nazi salute as the shopper leaves. We immediately understand the connection which is made between fascism and sexual repression, but the point is belaboured at length. He seems to also include science fiction in his equation, and since the elderly gentleman picks up a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle amongst his other choices (he passes over a copy of Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human), a book which is a favourite of mine, I take this rather personally. As a long-term reader of science fiction literature, I can assure Mr Godard that it has not turned me into a nazi. And if he really wanted to make his point in this area, he should have done his research and had the old man pick up the Robert Heinlein paperback which can also be seen on the shelves. In fact, even that wouldn’t have been accurate. Heinlein was a right wing libertarian, not a fascist. Words and definitions, political or otherwise, become devalued when they are thrown about with such casual and frequent abandon. The chief and possibly most valuable impression which the scene leaves you with is just how dull Mein Kampf really is.

Purple prose
The tedium of the film’s banal rhetorical surface leaves one desperately focussing on incidental details in the background to try to sustain interest. There is a routemaster which sails past one of the anonymous figures who spray-paint ‘revolutionary’ graffiti in the form of word collisions throughout the film (‘Cinemarxism’ anyone? Gosh, you can hear the Establishment tremble). I didn’t catch the number. Perhaps the good people at Buses on Film might be able to shed some light. Who knows, maybe there’s a radical bus-spotters syndicate out there somewhere. Quarrier’s involvement with the film did enable him to play a small part in rock history, however. When the title song finally came to be recorded, he joined Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg and others in adding his ‘whooo whooos’ to the backing vocals at the end.

Routemaster obscures revolutionary slogan
When the film came to be released, all hell broke loose. Godard fell out with Quarrier big time. Quarrier had re-edited the film to end with a complete version of the song, playing over a shot of the body of ‘Eve Democracy’ draped over the camera atop its crane. This shot goes through a number of colour tints in a mildly psychedelic fashion. He also changed the title from One Plus One to Sympathy for the Devil. The changes were very minor, and considering that most people wanted to see the film for the Stones rather than to be battered over the head with Godard’s heavy-handed political haranguing, seemed reasonable enough. Nothing was actually removed, after all. But Godard merely wanted to use the Stones’ celebrity as a means of smuggling his sloganeering across to a wider and unsuspecting audience. He’d try the same thing in America with Jefferson Airplane, although to be fair, they weren’t above a bit of empty sloganeering themselves. Even such minor changes as Quarrier made, presumably in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the film, were seen as an unforgiveable compromise. Godard and Quarrier ended up holding separate press conferences to promote the film.

When it came time for the premiere at the NFT, Godard tried to persuade the audience to veto the film. Unsurprisingly, when it was put to the vote, the people decided they’d really rather watch the film they’d come along to see. Godard called them all fascists, evidently widening the compass of the term to include anyone who disagreed with him. He then stormed out, but not before he tried to land a punch on Quarrier. What was it about him that made others want to sock him one. The thought of him arousing the Gallic ire of the self-important director makes me like him all the more. To drive someone to the point in a debate where they sink to resorting to physical assault is a sure sign that they have definitively lost the argument. Godard no doubt sulked off over Waterloo Bridge and into the night, and vowed never to return to these islands again. Tant pis.

Sympathy for the Devil does have some value as a comedy. The idea of Mick Jagger as a revolutionary figure is in itself utterly risible. Watching the scene in which Eve Democracy is interviewed by a team of Carnaby Street fops it’s difficult not to believe that you’ve tuned into an old episode of The Fast Show. Nike Arrighi, who played Tanith in The Devil Rides Out, makes a brief appearance as one of the white robed victims of the Black Power movement in the car scrapyard. Godard’s revolutionary posturing didn’t extend to giving women a voice. Here they are victims, elsewhere sighing, monosyllabic respondents to the endless self-involved chatter of male interrogators (Eve Democracy) or typists and till operators (Jackie). Arrighi is a striking presence and deserved more. I expect she got better treatment from Francois Truffaut in Day for Night.

Sympathy for the Devil was Quarrier’s last appearance in a film. Cupid Productions went on to produce the cult film Vanishing Point, a film whose petrol-head appeal rather passed me, a non-driving cyclist, by. According to Jack Bond, he was ‘the brains behind putting Vanishing Point together’. But on the credits, he is cited as a mere ‘creative consultant’. His old partner Michael Pearson claims the role of co-producer. Bond says he felt a great deal of bitterness after Vanishing Point. Perhaps he felt out of place in the less parochial, more hard-nosed world of Los Angeles. The informality and amateurism of London in the sixties, the feeling that the combination of imagination and charm (and a bit of spare cash) could produce something new and exciting had evaporated, perhaps partly a victim of its own successes. After Vanishing Point, Bond says that Quarrier ‘disappeared – untraceable’. He goes on to say, in regretful tones, that ‘quite a few people have tried to find out where he is and what’s happened, and no-one’s succeeded’. The fact that he has vanished so completely from public view leaves him all the more indelibly associated with the brief and colourful swirl of the zeitgeist which hit London in the sixties. It would be great to hear his take on that era, and get his side of the story to give balance to those anecdotes of which he is the object. Maybe the rediscovery of Separation occasioned by the BFI’s restoration and release which prompted Jack Bond to look back on those times in such an engaging manner might encourage him to emerge once more. I’m sure he’s got many fascinating stories to tell. Meanwhile, wherever he is, here’s hoping he’s contented – and still immaculately cool.


Gregory said...

Since I’m not a movieholic, I never heard about Iain Quarrier before. Perhaps I did watch one of his movies, but I didn’t know if it is him. Too bad that you didn’t give any link about Iain Quarrier’s movies in your post.

A Dandy in Aspic said...

Thanks for this very interesting post about Iain Quarrier. I was doing some research on "Wonderwall" recently, and, completely accidentally, I've found out a little bit about Quarrier's present whereabouts. It seems that he lives in Ladbroke Grove, London,and is completely destitute. Apparently, He is an alcoholic with a mental illness. This is a link to an article about bizarre incident in which Quarrier was involved about a year ago. I must say it sounds very disturbing:

Apparently, he has had problems with mental illness since early seventies (which would explain his mysterious disappearance).

I think it makes his life story even more fascinating in some strange way. There is something very Beau Brummellian about his rise and fall.

Jez Winship said...

How sad. Strange that there was no mention of his film career in the report - did no one know? Such a shame that he has fallen so low. I'm sure he'd have some fascinating stories to tell about the 60s. Thanks for letting me know about this.

Katie said...

It seems to me to know Quarrier. Actually, I've never heard of before about Quarrier. Maybe I've seen Quarrier in one movie that I watch. I am very interested to find out further information about Quarrier. Unfortunately, you do not posting a movie of Quarrier on your site. If you do, it will be better.

Anonymous said...

Great run through of Quarrier's career - that scene between Quarrier and Polanski reading the book of love from Vampire Killers is my favourite 'what's making his little heart go pitter-patter then?', or maybe when he pops round to MacGowan's flat in Wonderwall 'Well it's been beautiful professor'. Must disagree about the Godard - I mean if we are going to rehabilitate all the cultural artifacts previously reviled as kitsch (I guess that includes Wonderwall) then we surely have to make room for Maoist post structuralist cinema! In fact Jagger WAS regarded as revolutionary at the time - but NOT by Godard, the movie is clearly trying to demystify the music scene & music making process. Nowadays I watch Sympathy for the Devil from time to time on DVD and enjoy most of it enormously - it's very funny and uncompromising, although I prefer la Gai savoir & British Sounds - both of which you would hate even more... HJ

Simon said...

A brilliant piece, so full of detail. I actually met Quarrier once. This would have been in about 2003. I was in a bar in Portobello Road one evening with a friend, and he was sitting opposite us, clearly the worse for wear. We were celebrating me having my first script commissioned by the BBC, and eventually, when my friend went to the bar, having listened to our conversation, he sat down beside me and said that he was in the movie business and could "help me". When I asked him which films he had made, he said "Vanishing Point". He was rather taken aback when I told him I knew it. He then rambled on and behaved in a slightly sinister but also rather pitiful way. He kept asking me to come to his flat the following afternoon and if I did he could "help me". Eventually he got aggressive and was told to leave. I then googled him and read about his Sixties glory days. Slumped in the corner of the pub that day, he was practically a ghost, and still living in the past. I see that since then he's had two further convictions, after the first one for indecent assault in 1996. I suspect he's dead now. He was a complete shambles of a human being.