A 15-Film Retrospective of the Rich and Varied Career of the Iconic Actor Includes Teorema, Poor Cow, The Limey, Far from the Madding Crowd, and more!
Beginning Friday March 23, Metrograph will present a 15-film retrospective of actor Terence Stamp. To say that Stamp was a handsome young man is as unnecessary as observing that the sky is blue—in his 1962 film debut, Billy Budd, he plays nothing less than Herman Melville’s paragon of male beauty. But Stamp, a working-class son of London, is one hell of a fine actor, too, a fact that 1960s lions like Pier Paolo Pasolini, William Wyler, Joseph Losey, Ken Loach and Federico Fellini took full advantage of. Past his ingenue years, the always-commanding Stamp has had a rich and varied career, from Superman II to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to the hard-boiled neo-noir of The Limey, which allowed him to dust off the cockney accent of his boyhood. “I just decided I was a character actor now,” he’s said of leaving the ‘60s behind, “and I can do anything.”
Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov/1962/123 mins/35mm) A film debut for the ages, Billy Budd has the supernally gorgeous Stamp in the title role, a pure-of-spirit recruit on a circa 1797 British naval ship whose radiance draws the ire of master-of-arms John Claggart, one of the most menacing looming sociopaths ever played by Robert Ryan-which is saying something. Director Ustinov co-stars, while DP Robert Krasker gives us maritime splendor and below deck intrigue in widescreen black-and-white.
The Collector (William Wyler/1965/119 mins/DCP) A late triumph for studio-era veteran Wyler, who turned down The Sound of Music (!) to instead make this skin-crawling study in obsession. Wyler’s film takes full advantage of the new license of the 1960s in depicting Stamp as a mentally-unbalanced lepidopterist and Samantha Eggar as the art student crush who becomes an unwilling human addition to his collection in this harrowing, psychologically acute adaptation from John Fowles’ novel.
Modesty Blaise (Joseph Losey/1966/119 mins/DCP) Stamp is the Cockney cat-burglar partner to Monica Vitti’s titular spy seductress and jewel thief in Losey’s one-of-a-kind, eye-popping Pop art comedy/thriller, which pits our sleek twosome against camp criminal genius Dirk Bogarde, with Tina Aumont in on the action and outlandish ultramodern sets in DeLuxe Color- just in case there wasn’t already quite enough decorative decadence.
Far from the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger/1967/168 mins/35mm) The dashing, dandyish Sergeant Troy of Thomas Hardy’s canonical 1874 novel finds his perfect interpreter in Stamp, here vying with Peter Finch and Alan Bates for the attentions of headstrong (and very lucky) lass Julie Christie, fresh off her Oscar for director Schlesinger’s Darling. The backdrop of rolling, picturesque, unspoiled green English countryside would be beautiful shot by almost anybody, but when the cinematographer is Nicolas Roeg, the results are otherworldly.
Poor Cow (Ken Loach/1967/101 mins/DCP) Young Cockney mother Carol White’s no-good husband is in the slammer, so she doesn’t think twice when Stamp’s dashing young burglar comes a-calling. Loach’s deeply empathetic slice of working-class life is invested with a raw vigor by vivacious camerawork which explores the grotty backstreets and pub locals that make up the character’s world. A prequel of sorts to Soderbergh’s The Limey, which lifts its flashback scenes from Loach’s film.
Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini/1968/98 mins/35mm) + Toby Dammit (Federico Fellini/1968/37 mins/35mm) If it’s 1968 and one is making a movie about a mysterious, irresistible stranger who drops into the home of a Milanese industrialist and then proceeds to methodically seduce the patriarch and his entire family, there’s only one man for the job—and Pasolini made the obvious choice. Italian stars Massimo Girotti and Silvana Mangano are heads of the household, but it is the blue-eyed Christ-devil Stamp and his painted-on slacks that are in control here. Screening with Toby Dammit, Fellini’s very loose, endorphin rush adaptation of Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” with Stamp as a supremely dissipated, translucently pale English actor own into Rome for an awards ceremony, assailed by leering faces and lurid images from the moment he sets foot on the tarmac.
Superman II (Richard Lester/1980/127 mins/35mm) Playing General Zod in the 1978 Superman proved the unexpected beginning of a professional renaissance for Stamp, who reprised the role in this spectacular 1980 sequel, which finds Christopher Reeve’s Man of Steel relinquishing his powers to pursue a human romance with Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, only to meet assault on all fronts led by Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and Stamp’s Zod, a villainous performance for the ages. Print courtesy of the Tarantino Archives.
The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan/1984/95 mins/35mm) Jordan’s juicy Gothic fantasy is a fractured fairy tale sprung from the short stories of Angela Carter, visualizing the macabre, often erotic, and always astonishing dreams of a disturbed adolescent girl, whose fevered visions include the landscape of production designer Anton Furst’s magic forest, marvelous lycanthropic transformations done via old-school analog effects, and a certain uncredited actor in the role of the Devil himself.
The Hit (Stephen Frears/1984/98 mins/35mm) The cream of English screen acting is on display in Frears’ auspicious, underseen feature debut, in which turncoat gangster Terence Stamp is ferreted out of hiding in his Spanish villa by two hitmen-old pro John Hurt and youthful hothead Tim Roth, taking their quarry on the road while police inspector Fernando Rey follows in hot pursuit, acquiring firebrand Laura del Sol, and a heavy load of problems, along the way.
Alien Nation (Graham Baker/1988/91 mins/35mm) A neo-noir-inflected high-concept sci-fi cult cop movie done in high ‘80s style, Los Angeles-set Alien Nation imagines the difficulties facing a city striving to assimilate a population of 300,000 alien “Newcomers” after they crash land in the Mojave Desert. Veteran detective James Caan is unhappily teamed with alien partner Mandy Patinkin, but puts prejudice aside to go after a crime kingpin: Stamp, smashing in the leopard print pate of a Newcomer.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott/1994/104 mins/35mm) With a date to take the stage at a casino in faraway Alice Springs, Australia, a fabulous foursome leave Sydney to blaze a flaming trail across the outback together. Stamp’s transgender Bernadette joins drag queens Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia (Guy Pearce), and their beat-up lavender tour bus, Priscilla. Along the way they stand up to intolerance with humor and goodwill, scale landmark Uluru in drag, and look for a little more much-deserved happiness. “I was less stunning than I’d hoped,” Stamp said of his first turn as a female lead.
Bowfinger (Frank Oz/1999/97 mins/35mm) Steve Martin writes and stars as flim-flam man producer Bobby Bowfinger, planning to shoot his action masterpiece Chubby Rain with megastar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) in the lead role. This is complicated by the fact that Ramsey refuses to star in the movie, which calls for hidden cameras and a sweet, nerdy “double,” Ji (Murphy, again). With Heather Graham as a ruthless wannabe actress, and the finest Cahiers du Cinema cameo in American movies of the 1990’s.
The Limey (Steven Soderbergh/1999/89 mins/35mm) Career criminal Stamp lands in Los Angeles to ferret out his daughter’s murderers, and God help whoever stands in his way. With excerpts of Poor Cow, jigsaw puzzle editing gambits that recall John Boorman’sPoint Blank (1967), Peter Fonda as a Big Sur-based ex-hippie-ish heavy, and Stamp returning to his East London roots, The Limey has all the elements of a pure throwback, but manages at the same time to feel bracingly turn-of-the-millennium. An elegant and deadly object.