Könyv: John Phillip Law-Diabolik Angel

John Phillip Law tavaly májusban hunyt el, gondoltam megemlítem, hogy egy életrajzi könyvet találtam róla:


John Philipp Law: Diabolik Angel
szerzők: Carlos Aguilar & Anita Hass, előszó: Ray Harryhausen,
kiadó: Scifiworld/Quatermass, 240 oldal, ISBN 978-84-612-4501-7

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Towards the end of John Phillip Law: Diabolik Angel, authors Carlos Aguilar and Anita Haas describe their book as “an unfinished work”, anticipating, as they did, further films in the strange career of an actor best remembered for playing the black-clad super-criminal in Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1968), the blind angel, Pygar, in Roger Vadim’s Barbarella (1968), and the turbaned hero of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973). Sadly, as it turned out, Diabolik Angel will stand instead as the last word on Law, who died of cancer at the age of 70 in May of last year, during the final stages of the book’s preparation.

Due, in part, to his association with such iconic, but necessarily two-dimensional, characters as Diabolik and Sinbad, Law himself remained something of a screen enigma, a somewhat remote, otherworldly presence whose own personality was seldom discernable in the roles he played. His best non-fantasy performances – as the naïve Russian submariner in The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1965), the haunted protagonist of Death Rides a Horse (1967), the object of Rod Steiger’s affections in The Sergeant (1968), and the deadly but anachronistic knight of the air in Von Richthofen and Brown (1971, a.k.a. The Red Baron) – were sufficiently compelling and varied (though united by a certain innocence) to suggest that Law would become a leading character star of the 1970s. And yet somehow such status eluded him.

Fortunately, throughout the 1960s and beyond, Law continued to work in Europe, where his film career (a few appearances as a child actor in Hollywood apart) had begun. Signed to appear in Barbarella on the recommendation of Hurry Sundown co-star and friend, Jane Fonda, Law found himself sharing the Roman villa (and swinging orgies) of Fonda and her husband, director Roger Vadim. When production of Barbarella was delayed, Law travelled to Almería in Spain to work, opposite Lee Van Cleef, on Giulio Petroni’s Western, Death Rides a Horse, an experience he greatly enjoyed: “The Italians exploded the genre, they made it into something brutal and surreal, according to their mentality. They made it bigger than life. I like them. They made some good ones, which are more appreciated today than at the time.”

Back in Rome, with Vadim’s space odyssey still delayed, Law was asked by producer Dino De Laurentiis to take over the role of Diabolik (originally to have been played by French actor, Jean Sorel), under the direction of Mario Bava and opposite Roger Vadim’s former wife, Catherine Deneuve. After a week’s shooting, the obvious lack of chemistry between the stars resulted in Deneuve being replaced by Marisa Mell, with whom Law shared an off-screen affair which “helped the film out a lot.” Of Bava, he remarked that, “He had become famous for his horror movies that cost very little and looked great. A lot of people didn’t take him seriously, but he was a genius. . . . What Bava did [with limited resources and great imagination] is a lost art. Today they do everything with computers. Cut here, add there . . . “

Law’s work on Barbarella (a camp classic, perhaps, but not, by any definition, a good film) drew the following comparison between Bava and Vadim: ‘Bava was like a European cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman. And he was extremely modest. He would say things like, “I don’t know anything about directing, I just know a few tricks with the camera”. But he was very talented and in the end he knew what he wanted. . . . Vadim, on the other hand, considered himself a conceptual artist, refined, special, he thought he was very vanguard, an auteur. But he was obsessed with eroticism. Once he told me “I’m not gay, but I’m very feminine. That’s why I can get women to do anything I want, both in film and in real life”.’ Regardless of the varying merits of Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella, the two films earned Law an enduring cult reputation among devotees of fantasy cinema worldwide.

Not that everything in Europe proved plain sailing for Law: producer Samuel Bronston’s planned “comeback” film, the epic Isabella of Spain, in which Law was to play King Ferdinand opposite Glenda Jackson’s Isabella, was cancelled in 1971 (probably fortuitously; the Bronston-style, historical super-production had had its day, and it seems likely that the film would have been epic only in terms of financial failure). That disappointment aside, however, Law found working abroad a satisfying experience: “I got used to international cinema. I loved it, rather than staying in the same city where I had lived all my life. In Hollywood, the actor is only one little piece of a big machine. Outside Hollywood, on the other hand, the actor can feel like he is part of the creative process in film making. I prefer it.”

Reading Aguilar’s and Haas’s engrossing book, it soon becomes clear that the character Law played who was closest in spirit to him was Sinbad; like that intrepid adventurer, Law continually crossed the Seven Seas in search of new experiences, new philosophies, and different cultures, eventually working in some thirty countries on five continents. His wanderlust was inspired, not by restlessness, or even curiosity, but by his rejection of his strict and conventional upbringing and subsequent embrace of the hippy ethic of the 1960s. Indeed, his life often reads like a rarified time-capsule account of the post-war American counterculture: the son of a lawman and an actress of little renown, he became a Rebel Without a Cause Fifties’ teenager, drag-car racing on Sunset Strip, before finding himself through acting. As a penniless student he travelled to Europe where he was soon caught up in la dolce vita of Italy’s boom years. With his younger brother, Tom, he opened a “hippy hotel” in L.A., frequented by the likes of Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Paul Morrisssey, and The Velvet Underground. He experimented with drugs, and enjoyed a fling with Faye Dunaway, an affair with Barbara Parkins, and a one-night stand with Joan Baez. He also participated in civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, before becoming something of a fixture in his friend Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion – a not entirely inappropriate refuge for a hero of fantasy.

John Phillip Law’s career may not have reached the heights for which it once seemed destined, but that in no way detracts from the interest and value of this excellent book, which comprises both original commentary by Aguilar (Spain’s foremost author on popular cinema) and Haas (who wrote a well-received Spanish-language book on Eli Wallach in 2006) and extensive interview material obtained between 2004 and Law’s death. With text in both Spanish and English (bar the picture captions, which are in Spanish only), John Phillip Law: Diabolik Angel is copiously illustrated with many rare photographs, including stills from the abandoned footage of both Danger: Diabolik and The Gypsy Moths, and also contains an affectionate foreword by Ray Harryhausen. If you enjoy reading Cinema Retro, you’ll enjoy reading this book. Highly recommended.

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