The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
LONDON - So here was David Hemmings, home again, drinking a pint of beer in his neighborhood pub. He lifted his pint from the counter, carried it over to a table in the corner, sat down drank deeply and sighed.
"How sweet it is," he said, his Jackie Gleason imitation for the evening. There was a fleck of foam left on his mustache, and he wiped it off. Then he put his feet up on a chair. You could tell it was good to be home.
Hemmings spent five or six months earlier this year in Los Angeles, playing Mordred to Vanessa Redgrave's Guinevere in "Camelot." He was the hottest thing in Hollywood. He had just appeared in his first movie, which had the good fortune to be Antonioni's "Blow-Up" and so it was very fashionable to know David Hemmings and everybody who could did, and a lot who didn't worried about it.
Hemmings took to Los Angeles. He wore his dark glasses 24 hours a day and dressed in psychedelic shirts and white Levi's. He was filled with all these plans. Like his photographic exhibition.
He was going to stage an exhibition with Dennis Hopper, a young photographer. They were going to fill up a hall with pictures. And then there were also going to be "objects" in the exhibition. Objects typical of Los Angeles, like telephone booths, martinis and people. Real people. They were going to hire people to be objects in their exhibition. They wanted a cop and a waitress and, oh, all kinds of people. A Watts rioter. A faith healer. You get the idea.
Well, you can see Los Angeles was really an experience for Hemmings. But now here he was back in London again, sitting in a pub called the Bunch of Grapes, drinking beer. Gone were the white Levi's. No dark glasses. Hemmings was wearing baggy corduroys, a shirt open at the neck and a maroon and white wool sweater, frayed at one elbow. More of a London uniform.
So whatever happened to the exhibition?
"Never got 'round to it," Hemmings said. "Left right afterwards. Sounded like a good idea at the time, though, wouldn't you say? Of course, if I ever did get around to everything I say I'm going to do, I'd be a clever fellow, wouldn't I?"
Hemmings said he had been thinking over Los Angeles and decided he liked it. "It's a very honest city," he said. "It has, you know, truth in lack of truth. Everyone knows that everyone else hates his guts, and so there's no deception, no hypocrisy. Here in London we all pretend we like each other. Stiff upper lip and all that crap."
After Hemmings came back to England he started to work on "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The female star, once again, is Vanessa Redgrave, which means Hemmings and Vanessa have been together in three movies now. But they'll probably never make another Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald team, if only because Vanessa stands a lovely 5 feet 11 inches and is about three inches taller than Hemmings.
Around the table, the life of the pub went on. Nobody looked at Hemmings or asked for his autograph, perhaps because of ingrained British reserve, perhaps because nobody had seen "Blow-Up" and so nobody knew who Hemmings was.
"Look at this place," he said.
At 6 p.m. a London pub fills quickly with all sorts of people. Civil servants, laborers, businessmen, ladies with lap dogs, young couples. Time for a drink before going home and turning on the telly. The Bunch of Grapes looked formidably like a typical London pub.
"You know," Hemmings mused, "it would be great to have an exhibition of this place. Just kind of freeze everybody in place, and . . ."
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