Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Aging

As AndressFest has continued from year to year and our selection of unseen movies has dwindled, I've motivated my fellow AndressFesters to keep sourcing material by issuing a singular threat: if we can't get the movies we want, we'll be forced to watch Ursula's double episode of 'The Love Boat'.


This year, I had to act on that threat.


'The Love Boat' wasn't so exciting and new by 1983. It was in its 7th season, and roundly deserved its reputation as a repository for washed-up actors coasting on their name recognition. Along for the ride with Ursula in this particular episode were Lee Majors (The 6 Million Dollar Man), Erin Moran (Happy Days), John Forsythe (Dynasty), Linda Evans (also Dynasty) and Michael Constantine (any movie or TV show requiring a slow-moving, doughy bald man between 1949 and 2003).


As was traditional on 'The Love Boat', the narrative blended several individual storylines. Linda Evans falls in love with Lee Majors, then flounces away when she discovers he works in a field she doesn't like, but returns when he pats her silly female hand and tells her it's all okay. Meanwhile Susan Anton falls in love with Bernie Koppel, then flounces away when she discovers he works in a field she doesn't like, but returns when he pats her silly female hand and tells her it's all okay. At the same time, Patricia Klous and Erin Moran both fall in love with Lee Horsley, then flounce away when they discover the existence of each other, but return when he chooses one over the other, pats both of their silly female hands and tells them it's all okay.


I don't think these episodes were written by Andrea Dworkin, somehow.


Fortunately, Ursula wasn't required to put up with any of this flaky crap. Her story is one of love at first sight between a dying woman ticking items off her bucket list and gentleman criminal on the run. She's trying to elude the Grim Reaper, and he's trying to dodge the detective who's tracked him down. In between they relish their time together before they're dragged off to jail, or the grave, or both.


The other traditional part of a standard episode of 'The Love Boat' was a lot of fawning blather about this week's cruise destination. For Ursula's episode, it was China, which was a strange choice for a frothy TV soap in 1983, given that China was still a closed hardcore Communist dictatorship at the time, before the fall of the Soviet Union, the return of Hong Kong and the boom of the last quarter century. And with all that's happened since then, it's a little disconcerting to hear characters gush about the wonders of Tienanmen Square (which can apparently hold a million people, although presumably fewer if they've been flattened and spread out by tanks).


It's also amusing to hear characters burbling to each other about how "beautiful" everything is, despite the fact that it's TV and we can actually SEE the drab grimy buildings and listless grey trees behind them. When the most refined thing in a scene is Linda Evans' purple rayon blouse, something's not right.





Linda Evans' purple rayon blouse is emblematic of the only interesting thing in 'The Love Boat': the costumes. The words the actors are saying and the things they are doing aren't words spoken or things done by real human beings. They're not aspects of storytelling; they're lines in a formula that's been churning out scripts for seven seasons. But the costumes have space for creativity. They still don't make sense - Ursula manages to wear three full changes of outfit on a single day trip, despite not taking any luggage with her - but they're rich with the fashion semiotics of the late 70s and early 80s. Pastels, pantsuits, artificial fibres, shoulder pads and a horrible predilection for beige.

















The very worst thing about this episode of 'The Love Boat' is the way that it treated our Ursula. She was a vivacious 47 year old, with a 3 year old child and a 31 year old lover. And yet here she is, forced into the role of a feisty senior citizen who could drop dead at any moment. With her white-blonde hair and awful beige leisurewear, she looks like she just stepped out of a commercial for denture adhesive or a "lifestyle village".





It's telling that her love interest was played by John Forsythe, at 65 an actual feisty senior citizen, who was nearly two decades her senior.


European love the idea of a sexy mature woman. Americans, by contrast, freak out if any woman over the age of 25 gives the impression that she has an active sex life. It's no wonder they had no idea what to do with a middle-aged Ursula Andress.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dreamy

Our first movie for AndressFest'15 was 'Nightmare in the Sun'. It's an actual movie and not, as you might think, just a generic term for any Ursula Andress movie watched during daylight hours.


'Nightmare in the Sun' was the 1965 directorial debut of John Derek, who cast his then-wife Ursula Andress as one of his leads, clearly without understanding that The Curse of Ursula consigns all of her movies to cinematic doom.


Or perhaps he understood, but just didn't care. Here's how we're introduced to Ursula:





Which is all the evidence you need of why AndressFest is in its 10th year.


Ursula plays Marsha Wilson, a beautiful European girl who married a rich old American man in order to see the world, but got stuck in a boring, po-dunk town rather than experiencing the New York high life he promised her.


She's desperate to escape this dusty backwater, and spontaneously offers to drive a handsome hitchhiker (John Derek) to his destination in Los Angeles. But first they make a stop at her place to pack, take a dip in the pool, and bear witness to Ursula's collection of creepy dolls, including a terrifying miniature Richard Simmons.








But when she find out he's married, the whole plan falls apart. The hitchhiker leaves, just in time to be seen by Ursula's drunken husband, who responds to the erroneous impression that she banged the stranger by blasting her with a rifle.


Ursula he shoots once. The Miniature Richard Simmons he shoots three times. He may be drunk and crazy but he's not stupid.





Enter the local sheriff (Aldo Ray), who ironically actually was banging Ursula earlier that day. He realises that if the old man confesses to Ursula's murder, his own adultery will probably come to light and his career will be over. So he decides that they'll blame the mysterious hitchhiker. As a result, said hitchhiker becomes a hunted man, forced to dodge slack-jawed deputies, road blocks and vigilantes on top of the usual threats to movie hitchhikers, such as demonically possessed trailer trucks and Thelma and Louise.


Included in the cast of vengeance-crazed hillbillies is a local scrapyard owner (Keenan Wynn), a couple of senile animal hoarders (George Tobias and Lurene Tuttle), and two out-of-town bikers who join the hunt in the venal hope that there will be a reward. They demonstrate that even in 1965, Hollywood was still under the daft 1950s illusion that rebellious biker youths could be convincingly played by 34 year olds with thinning hair and a penchant for cardigans.





Many commentators believe there was a homosexual subtext between these two. I say that no gay man would ever leave the house dressed like that.


Eventually the hitchhiker is captured by, of all things, a creepy scoutmaster. But when he's handed over to the police, he's immediately freed: the old man, wracked with guilt, has confessed to Ursula's murder. Oh, and the sheriff's, apparently. It's as if the cameraman suddenly discovered that they only had a few feet of film left and they had to wrap up the story in eleven seconds.


'Nightmare in the Sun' wasn't a terrible film, at least not by AndressFest standards, but when the best thing about your movie is a famously beautiful but famously terrible actress... well, you could probably stand to tighten things up a bit.





It helped that Marsha was the role Ursula was born to play. Her scenes, which required her to roll nudely around a bed, climb out of a swimming pool in a clingy wet white dress, and flirt with every man she encountered under the age of fifty, were just things that Ursula would probably have been doing anyway, only this time there were cameras filming it. As such she is one of the two best things about 'Nightmare in the Sun'.


The other best thing was her car:





Marsha's car was actually Ursula's own car, a gorgeous 1958 BMW 507 Series II convertible. Only 253 were ever built, and these days a fully restored version typically sells for one to three million dollars. Ursula's own example sold for more than a million dollars in 2011.


It made sense. The ravishingly sexy Ursula Andress needed a ravishingly sexy car: she could hardly be expected to get about in a Ford Anglia. They were both stunning, rare, exotic creatures out of place in the scrubby California hinterlands. And within a year at least one of them had divorced her husband and high-tailed it back to Europe.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sweet

While some of you were off watching decent movies (pfft) with good acting (meh) and competent direction (whatevs), several brave and foolish followers of awful cinema were partaking in AndressFest'15, my 10th annual celebration of the greatest terrible actress the world has ever known.


This is their story. Or rather it would be, if only we could remember it. Vodka, like time, heals all wounds... except of course for the ones it causes.


This year's unique AndressFest cocktail was something of a winner. Behold the murky majesty of the Sticky Ursula!





The Sticky Ursula


10 parts caramel-infused vodka

1 part American Honey

1 part Tia Maria


To make the caramel-infused vodka, dissolve some jersey caramels in vodka for at least 48 hours, at a ratio of one caramel per 100mls. Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and serve in a martini glass, garnished with a sliced date.


To go with the Sticky Ursula, I prepared the usual range of subtly evocative snacks.

















None of it was even remotely good for us. Which, frankly, echoed the content of our AndressFest'15 movies.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Finale

The final day in Bali presented us with a conundrum. The checkout time at the hotel was 11am, but the flight back to Australia didn't leave until 10.30pm. So we had nearly twelve hours to spend hobbled by luggage.


The solution was one of those luxuries that one could never afford in Australia: we hired a driver to collect us from the hotel at 11am, take us around the island for nine hours, then deposit us at the airport at 8pm. And he would also design an itinerary for us, and play tour guide at selected sites.


All for fifty American dollars.


My travel buddy wanted to see some temples and Bali's famous beaches, so the driver took us to Uluwatu, the famous white temple at the island's extreme south, which sits on a clifftop overlooking the ocean.




















Uluwatu is surrounded by the sacred monkey forest, and the monkeys are believed to protect the temple from bad influences... which is a little like claiming that the IRA protects the streets of Belfast from criminal gangs.


"While at the temple, please remove your hat and sunglasses and put them in your bag," the driver told us.


"As a mark of respect?" I asked.


"No," he said. "If you don't the monkeys will steal them."


I might have dismissed this as hyperbole, until I saw a young monkey gnawing on a pair of bifocals with their arms ripped off.


From Uluwatu we traveled to Padang Padang beach, made famous by Julia Roberts swanning along it on a solitary journey of self-discovery that somehow managed to omit the crowds and hawkers.





Then Dreamland beach, a slightly less beautiful beach filled with slightly less beautiful people, but boasting the New Kuta Beach Club, where one could relax out of the heat with a ridiculously oversized bottle of water and a nice club sandwich.








Braving the mid-afternoon heat, the Worst Ninja in the World and I took a walk along the shore, pausing for a photo of him with his new beach house.








Then down to Nusa Dua, which is where the movie stars and heads of state stay when they're in Bali. There's a shore of strangely weathered rocks, where a Japanese couple were taking engagement photos, and a little further up a Chinese tourist posed for his friends to take photos, before a freak wave boomed into the rocks, sprayed up, and dumped half a swimming pool's worth of water onto him. If you want to know what it feels like to have every single person within a 200 metre radius point at you and burst into uncontrollable laughter, I know a guy in China who can set you straight.








By this time it was about 6pm, so our driver dropped us off at a beachfront restaurant. It no doubt gave him a hefty kickback, and it was probably the worst restaurant we'd visited, but it was sited on one of Bali's few west-facing beaches, and so offered a magical view of the sun setting over the ocean.











It was such a lovely spot that I even tolerated the wandering musicians who sidled up to every table, asked the nationality of the diners, then played a song more or less related to that country. I shuddered to think what they'd choose from the Great Australia Songbook ('Khe Sahn', probably, since this restaurant was deep in bogan territory), so I told them to play something South American, and was rewarded with a samba. In five minutes they were earning in tips what most skilled Balinese would earn in an hour, but they were talented musicians so it seemed appropriate. Apparently they learnt their repertoire from watching YouTube videos.


Then it was off to the airport for more tourist taxes and a cut-price flight back to Australia.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Journey

Before I left Australia, my aunt told me that my cousins had highly recommended going on a mountain bike tour in Bali. So buoyed by the fun of Waterbom, which proved that I could exert myself and enjoy it, I decided to give it a try.


It was the first time since I'd arrived in Bali that I'd been forced to interact with other tourists for more than a few seconds. There was a party of six from Romania, lead by a loud woman who interrupted all of the guide's speeches with questions only of interest to herself. There was a quiet American couple, and me and my travel buddy. And lastly there was a strange woman from Holland who was notable for two things:


1) she was scared of everything. Spiders. Snakes. Chickens. Pigs. Corners. Fruit. The visible light spectrum. Everything she encountered reduced her to a shivering, squealing mess.


And 2), she had no idea how to ride a bike.


This second thing blew my mind. Holland is the Land of the Bicycle. People in Holland emerge from the womb on two wheels. They're as Dutch as windmills, tulips and putting prostitutes in shop windows. How on earth do you reach middle age in Holland without being able to ride a bike?


And even if you do somehow manage this unlikely feat, why in the name of all that's holy do you then choose to pay money to go on a MOUNTAIN BIKING TOUR!?


We commenced our tour from a little town near the Kintamani volcano, and progressed down back roads, farm tracks and walking paths, mostly downhill, pausing every couple of hundred metres for the Dutch woman to scream at a cloud or crash into a fencepost. In between her histrionics, the guide told us about the backyard coffee roasting businesses, the rice cakes drying on the roofs of houses, how cocoa is farmed, and the exotic flora and fauna of Bali.


The fauna included a vast colony of massive spiders in the trees by the side of the road, which reduced everyone in our group to shrieking hysterics except for me and the American man. Our guide demonstrated that they were harmless, allowing one to crawl over his hands and even on his face, but that didn't convince the rest of our group that they weren't in immediate danger of a gruesome death. I jumped at the chance to let one crawl across my hands - I guess for most Australians, after spending our lives surrounded by venomous snakes, poisonous platypuses, violent kangaroos, disease-filled ticks and carnivorous plants, any creature that's basically harmless holds no fear.








The Romanian woman demanded to know why the bus-sized colony of spiders hadn't been eradicated. The guide replied, with an air of polite puzzlement, that the spiders ate the mosquitoes and other insect pests, so why would they want to eradicate them?











The tour ended at an elephant sanctuary - something of an oddity in Bali, given that elephants aren't native to the island. I've learned that there's a certain amount of controversy about the place, since the elephants are 'saved' from a life of agricultural labour and 'rescued' into a life of performing stupid tricks for tourists. But it was a beautiful place, with many elephants solemnly lumbering about and acres of landscaped tropical gardens.





The Worst Ninja in the World took the opportunity to practice his stealth skills. With mostly disappointing results.

















But despite hysterical Dutchwomen, demanding Romanians and giant spiders, it was a lot of fun to get out into the country and do a little exercise. My cousins did not lead me wrong - it was a lot of fun and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just aim for one without Europeans, I guess.


We made it back to the city by early evening, and then headed out to dinner. Near the hotel we found The Bistrot, a French restaurant slathered in Gallic Hipster Chic, all vintage velvet couches, oversized chandeliers, flagstone flooring, repurposed industrial shelving and antique home appliances mounted on the walls, like the first apartment of some privileged Parisian student who furnished it with whatever he could find in the attic of his parent's chateau.





For dinner I had a double Gordon's martini, Salad Nicoise made with sashimi tuna and quail eggs, and an exquisite creme brulee with a crust as thin and delicate as a butterfly's wing... all for $30. In Australia the double martini alone would cost almost that much.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Challenging

I am the sort of person who could quite contentedly spend a week in Bali sleeping, eating, drinking, reading and floundering about the swimming pool like a dugong undergoing anaphylactic shock. But my travel buddy is a man of action, and he demanded that we go to Waterbom.





I didn't resist, because Waterbom is amazing. In fact I'd forgotten how much fun it is. In the last 18 months they've opened three new slides, all of which are awesome enough to compensate for the endless stairclimbing required to reach them. The queues, if they existed, were modest.


You know your day is going well when, while walking from one slide to the next, you realise that you're giggling gleefully. There are moments at Waterbom when there's a feeling air of unironic, unimpeded joy rising off the crowd.


I was in such a good mood coming away from Waterbom that I found myself amused rather than annoyed by the taxi touts who closed in on us the second we walked out the gates. They wanted $20 to take us back to the hotel. I laughed in their faces, since it had cost $6, including tip, in a proper metered taxi, to get there. They swore they couldn't do it for less than $11. So I walked down the street a bit and found a driver who was more than happy to do it for $10.


Of course I could afford any of those prices, but more than tripling the cost of something shows a certain lack of respect.


After freshening up at the hotel, we went out to dinner at another of the restaurants on my to-do list. Ginger Moon, the brainchild of New Zealand-born chef Dean Keddell, is a groovy Asian fusion joint embodying the slightly kitschy style that's so popular in the trendier Australian restaurants.





Unfortunately, I discovered that while I'm a foodie who'll try anything once, my travel buddy... isn't. He's allergic to shellfish, for a start. And he can't stand pork. And isn't too keen on fish or beef either. And he hates carrots. And isn't fond of peas. Or indeed most vegetables. And he hates spicy food. And he doesn't drink alcohol.


While I gorged myself on salt 'n' pepper tofu and spiced chicken with sambal and avocado and slow-cooked lamb with black beans and goat's cheese, he checked the menu and found, with an air of great martyrdom, a pizza that was only partially distasteful, then carefully picked off a few offending fruits and vegetables and just ate the base and some chicken. And while I had a chili mojito that was, frankly, incredible, he had a couple of Cokes.





But we could both agree that the bill being presented in a coconut monkey head was pretty awesome.