Thursday, 19 November 2015

Claudia (1985, Anwar Kawadri and Michael Winner)

How can I resist the challenge nay temptation of a film directed by Anwar Kawadri (Nutcracker, Sex with the Stars) with “additional scenes produced, directed, written and edited by Michael Winner”.

I’m unsure of the exact history of the production, and who did precisely what, but for my money Claudia feels very much an abortive Winner film with additional material by Kawadri, rather than the other way round. Covering similar territory as Gerry O’Hara’s The Brute (1977), Claudia depicts the rapidly deteriorating relationship and marriage of its titular heroine Claudia (Deborah Raffin) and businessman Howard (Nicholas Ball). Initially the epitome of everything a woman wanted from a man in the materialistic 1980s, charmer Howard whisks Claudia away from her job working at her mother’s deli and into a world of wealth, art galleries, lavish restaurants and dinner parties attended by Howard’s well to do social circle (this is the kind of film where people tend to begin or end every sentence with ‘darling’). Upon their third wedding anniversary however huge cracks begin to appear in their relationship, Claudia’s Italian mother wants the couple to have a bambino and suspicions arise that Howard is firing blanks. To complicate matters Howard is also having an affair with aspiring female author Sally (Belinda Mayne, something of a moth to the flame when it came to appearing in trashy 80s movies- see also: Don’t Open Till Christmas, Alien 2: On Earth and White Fire) and he reacts to accusations of his impotence by calling Claudia a bitch and slapping her around. Following their breakup, Howard struggles to accept the separation, taking it especially bad when Claudia hooks up with her neighbour Gavin, a male hairdresser with ties to the music industry. After putting the frighteners on Gavin fails to have the desired effect, Howard takes things to greater extremes, having Gavin beaten up then murdered by his criminal associates. The shock of which causes a now pregnant Claudia to lose the baby she was due to have with Gavin, and vows to get revenge on her murderous ex.


In typical Winner fashion, polite, upper middle class settings and characters here mingle with rude and frequently hilariously course dialogue (“we make love, what’s your problem, you should see a psychiatrist or a gynaecologist”, “why don’t you explore a bit, y’know, have it off with the plumber or something”). Even the casting suggests Winner as the greater directorial presence, with leading lady Deborah Raffin appearing in Death Wish 3 the same year, and a supporting cast of 1960s showbiz knockabouts (Mark Eden, John Moulder-Brown, Ed Devereaux, Jess Conrad). Then there are the Balloons. For reasons he appears to have gone to his grave without explaining, nuns and characters holding balloons are a reoccurring harbinger of doom in Winner’s films. Basically the moment a nun or someone carrying balloons walks into frame in one of Winner’s films it is usually a sign that some very bad shit is about to go down. Sure enough in Claudia when a minor character shows up at a party at Claudia and Howard’s house with balloons, it signals the moment in the film when Howard undergoes a dramatic personality change from a ‘can do no wrong’ Mr Perfect to an alcoholic, wife beating, impotent rapist and control freak. The equal amount of emphasis on Howard and Claudia’s cooking, and vicious put downs of it by other characters could even be seen to anticipate Winner’s later career change from film maker to restaurant critic “I do hope you’ve improved your cooking Howard, the last time I ate with you, I had diarrhoea for three weeks” complains one character during one of the film’s endless parade of upper middle class dinner scenes. Make no mistake Claudia is truly a foodie’s film.

Winner was soon to be on an exploitation film roll, with the cranked up to eleven ludicrous excesses of Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help just around the corner, but Claudia feels like a muted variation on the latter, only with a wife, rather than a stepdaughter pitted against a vile piece of a shit of a man and struggling to convince those around her that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Perhaps due to the production problems and creative differences hinted at by the two director credits, Claudia never seems sure of what genre it wants to commit to. Everything about the opening twenty minutes indicates a rather lightweight romantic film, all shot in the glossy manner of a 1980s TV commercial aimed at yuppies. Thereafter Claudia really starts to frustratingly come off the rails, pursuing plot tangents that never lead anywhere, like Gavin going all Paul McCartney and temporarily installing Claudia as the keyboard player in his band, or Claudia’s mother finding love in later life and planning to move to Australia. Throughout the film I couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone who had the job of trying to market it to the public (it was made in 1985, but released direct to video in the UK in 1987), just how do you sell an inconsistent film with its fingers in so many disparate genres like Claudia. The further the film progresses, the deeper Claudia aimlessly drifts in the direction of being a thriller, a drama, a soap opera, a rape-revenge film and what back then might have patronisingly been referred to as a ‘a woman’s film’. The inclusion of Death Wishy exploitation elements (Howard’s criminal associates beating Gavin to a pulp, Claudia enduring beatings and a rape by Howard) may liven things up but only further adds to the sense of Claudia being a cinematic jack of all trades, and master of none. Definitely lesser 1980s Winner, Claudia never really catches fire like Death Wish 3 and Scream for Help, instead having to make do with feeling like a more violent, potty mouthed version of one of the era’s ‘Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense’ TV movies.

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