Sunday, November 28, 2010

Take Three: Terence Stamp

Craig here with Take Three. Today: Terence Stamp

Terence Stamp photographed by Terence Donovan, 1967

Take One: A family of Stamp collectors

Announced only as "The Stranger", Stamp waltzed into the home and lives of Teorema’s (Theorem/1968) wealthy Italian family like a bolt from the blue: in turn he sexed them all up good and proper, irrespective of gender, or even order, then left them reeling and the audience flummoxed. Everyone – on screen and off – was seduced by this perplexing guest. He left us all gagging for more. It was that naughty old Pier Paolo Pasolini’s fault. He dashed off his own personal spectator theory with the zestiest, most carefree and open abandon. Stamp’s stranger, most folk presume, is a Christ figure, a sexy Jesus substitute in the shape of a ‘60s heartthrob. The controversy of the film was aroused by this contentious quirk more than the frank and playful sexuality on display. PPP knew how to push buttons and he detonated a social-religious-cinematic bomb with his casting of Stamp in such a role.

On Stamp duty: Terence in Teorema

Teorema is a remarkable film – and Stamp is remarkable in it. He barely opens his mouth and still manages to bedazzle everyone and anyone in his sight line; he binds them all with the spell of his eyes and his crotch. (Seriously, Teorema must be the only film in which there’s a crotch shot every five minutes that isn’t a porno.) Each family member in turn glares at Stamp’s trouser lump prior to being whipped into a frothy frenzy and succumbing to his silently sexy ways. (He even attentively listens to post-sex confessions.) They are seduced, relinquished of their former burdens and transform in their own ways - they explode from their bourgeois closets. Yup, he bonks the family so much, and is so good at it, that each one forgets who they were: promiscuity, artistic endeavour, feverish catatonia and the immediate rejection of clothing are the by-products of his studly sexings. In fact, he bonks the family maid (Laura Betti) so much that she levitates. Now that’s liberation. As far as strange, Christly, wraith-like enigmas go, Terence Stamp’s not too shabby.

Stamp: sex god and foot rest (those are his own feet)

Take Two: Everyone look busy - Zod's coming!

Could you all please kneel...

Although Stamp cropped up as insolent insurrectionist General Zod in Richard Donner’s original Superman, it wasn’t until Superman II (1980) that he got to properly chow down on the scenery... before incinerating it with his special red-laser-eye effects. Zod’s gradual rise to unfathomable evil worked a treat for Stamp second time around. He looked miserably miffed stood on trial - and lorded over by a fat and fright-wigged Marlon Brando - as some ever-revolving space-aged hula-hoop kept his fury at bay. He looked downright pissed off squashed wafer thin inside a giant, flat, crystal rhombus, wedged between Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran as Ursa and Non. (Maybe he was so pissed off because they together looked like a failed experimental theatre troupe flung into space.) You can imagine how unimaginably livid he must have been once he set foot on earth, ready to make Superman’s life a super nightmare. Well, he was more smug than angry: check Zod out, walking on water simply because he could. On top of that, he could finger a fake president at ten paces. The guy's got skills. 

For the love of Zod, at least look at what you're reducing to smithereens!

Stamp’s Zod was second-to-none - quite literally. As the head of cinema’s most loved evil alien triptych he led from the front. Indeed, he liked to stand in front of massive, well-placed billboards and frown in close-up as often as possible, before flying headlong into fleeing extras – that’s a sign of real villainous brass. You can keep your small-screen bald teen Lex Luthor and the lazy Kevin Spacey retread. Give me a Godlike Zod - someone who plays it weird with a beard. Terence stamped the role, his role, with a singularly daft yet unmatchable class. Rumour has it that Zod is to be the main baddie in Zack Snyder’s upcoming reboot. I hope that someone clever presses redial and gets Stamp back on board: he's the only actor who can pull off neatly-trimmed facial hair and a jump-suit and still be scary. On top of that he mastered the three vital prerequisites for comic-book villainy: wig work, wire work and superhuman fireworks.

You can all get up now, he's gone.

Take Three: The Lady is a Stamp

“What are you telling me? This is an ABBA turd?”

Why Stamp was hesitant to take on the role of fifty-something transsexual Bernadette Basinger in Stephan Elliot’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), when he could deliver choice, juicy nuggets of dialogue like the above, is a mystery. It was a bold, atypical choice that I’m glad he said yes to. There were many other lines that sounded drily exquisite either rolled, or spat, out of Stamp’s mouth. Many were repeatable, some relatable, all were quotable – whether you’re an adventurous queen on a silver-stiletto-topped bus leaving a billowing molten fabric trail in its wake or not. Stamp was Priscilla’s conductress extraordinaire.

Transvision Stamp: three lady lizards on tour are thee

When I first watched Priscilla (I’ve thrice returned to it – all largely Stamp-induced viewings) the initial thing that struck me about his performance was how ladylike, how refined, he was. I mean this in the right way. A familiar, iconic actor known more often than not for playing dashing, virile swaggerers, Stamp had all the poise and decorum of an experienced woman having already lived two lifetimes only halfway through just the one. Throughout the film’s duration the congenial allure of the character never waned or faltered. It was incisive acting; he gave a very clever performance. And funny. It was in how Bernadette tilted her head, how she sat down, the choice of both age-correct and -incorrect clothing - and the way she wore them on stage and off; and it was chiefly in the staunch determination perceptible in her droll, weary voice when she was on verge of jacking it all in. Thank god for Bob and Alice Springs. But the unladylike moments of combative scuffle, with single-minded dunderheads down under, tickled just as much: “Now listen here you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon and blow your box apart, because it’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get sweetheart!” Charming. Ten-nil to Bernadette.

Three more key films for the taking:  The Collector (1965), Alien Nation (1988), The Limey (1999)


Ruth said...

When I saw the title of this post I thought 'How could he not mention Priscilla?' And there it was :) Stamp was absolutely brilliant.

pomme said...

@ruth:totally agreed!

Arkaan said...

I've just put Tereoma on hold from the library. Sounds libidinous and fascinating.

Anonymous said...

This man's eyes in Teorema are enough to make even the straightest guy bi-curious.

Oh, yeah: the movie's not too shabby either. ;-D

Glenn Dunks said...

Oh man, Prescilla. My favourite line from that movie is one of Stamp's: "Now listen here you mullet. Why don't you go light your tampon and blow your box apart, 'cause it's the only bang you're ever gonna get Sweetheart!"

Mirko said...

Stamp is exceptional also in THE COLLECTOR, the movie adaptation of John Fowles seminal novel. a perf for which he earned a Best Actor prize in Cannes but was overlooked by the Academy, even if the movie received several nominations

Ruth said...

"That's just what this country needs - a cock, in a frock, on a rock"

Volvagia said...

Teorema sounds BAD. Really bad. "I bleep you so much and so well your personality changes." I may see it, but consider my expectations considerably lowered.

adri said...

An extremely interesting actor. I liked him in Fellini's "Toby Dammit", John Schlesinger's "Far From the Madding Crowd", Peter Brook's "Meetings with Remarkable Men", "ma femme est une actrice" with Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Soderbergh's "The Limey".

I bought the re-issue by Criterion of Stephen Frears' "The Hit" this year, with Stamp, John Hurt, and Tim Roth (Tim Roth is just a kid!) This 1984 film influenced later British crime movies.

"The Hit" DVD extras have an interesting interview with Stamp. They ask him about his dropping out of acting for a while. He says he didn't drop out so much as cease to be popular. He and supermodel Jean Shrimpton were a couple and they perfectly embodied a certain swinging London fashionable look. He said every eye was always on them.

Then fashion changed, and he was no longer considered good looking. Stamp tried to get jobs and he went to Italy, and did other things, but he was always wanting to work. He just tried to be philosophical about the periods when he couldn't get work, and be grateful that for a working class boy (like Michael Caine, his friend and contemporary) he had received so much.

Unknown said...

I first saw him in Billy Budd, 1962, and it haunts me still.