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Ballad of Narayama

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Interview with Terence Stamp

Terence Stamp materialized in the Pump Room dressed in the uniform of a British movie star: long hair, Mod suit, bit of mustache, and a guarded leer.

"I keep getting stopped on the street," he said, "by people who ask me if I'm a group. Are you a group? they ask. Yes, says I'm Martha and the Vandellas.

He was in Chicago to promote "Blue" (1968), a Western that opens Friday at the Loop. He said he liked Chicago. "Chicago is cleaner," he said. "Even the old men are cleaner. Not that I pay particular attention to old men. But they are cleaner."

He rummaged in his pockets and produced a crumpled airline ticket with some writing on the back. "A poem," he said. "It commemorates my first steps in Tao. That's spelled T-A-O. A religion. As I see it, Tao refuted the Western profit ethic, in other words, How Now, Tao Jones?"

Stamp enjoyed his joke hugely. When he had finished laughing, he asked, "Have you heard anything new about George Adamowski? The flying saucer man? A few years ago he published that book, 'Flying Saucers Have Landed,' and I haven't heard a word since. Sinister? You bet. Incidentally, Milan is the architectural capital of the world not Chicago. They say Adamowski's flying saucer, photographs were actually the light fixture in his living room ceiling. Intriguing."

Ordering a plate of asparagus spears and a finger bowl ("Only barbarians do not eat asparagus with their fingers"), he recalled his career, when he and Michael Caine roomed together and were struggling young actors.

"Ah, we were starving young actors together," he said. At this point in my notes there is a blur - the finger bowl went awry - and the next legible words have to do with chess: "I can play and afford to lose, which is why I don't play. Bobby Fischer, who must not lose, cannot afford not to play. Even after Caine got famous, and then I got famous, we thought it would be nice to room together. We got on just fine. Bur there was talk. Ridiculous. No two more devoted heteros than Mike and I."

He examined the finger bowl. "Ah, this is real decadence," he said. "Rose petals in the finger bowl. Doesn't it make you think of decadence? Wouldn't you love a bathtub filled with rose petals?"

In "Blue," he said, "I play a strange lost character whose family is burned out, and who wanders the plains until, at last, a personality emerges and he goes into action. It's good. It works, and I work. We shot it in Moab, Utah, which is either the end or the beginning of the world. I think it could be my first really big commercial success. I could be wrong." Stamp's best-known role was probably in William Wyler's "The Collector," in which he played a strange young man who kidnapped Samantha Eggar and held her prisoner. "I didn't much go for Wyler," he said.

"Old-fashioned. But it was a good role." His other films include John Schlesinger's "Far From the Madding Crowd," Joseph Losey's "Modesty Blaise" and "Poor Cow."

"I liked 'Poor Cow' very much," he said. "Take my word for it, Carol White is a great actress. People compare her with Julie Christie, but Carol White is a better actress. With Julie, you just point a camera at her and she smolders. She's all emotions. Carol directs the emotions. I should know. I've been in love with both of them."

He dipped his fingers in the bowl again, and a fugitive smile fled from his face. "To bathe in a bathtub full of rose petals," he mused. "I say, let's get that together at the florist's."

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