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British Film Appreciation: All Night Long (1962)

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I like to watch. I like to watch in the semi-dark, natural light straining through heavy blinds. I like to watch off a screen no more than 16 inches wide. I sit on top of my bed. Often I'll sip red wine but I don't snack, snacking is distracting. This is as cozy as it gets. I always have a grand time at the cinema (even when I am not that keen on the film) but outdoor activities require pep talks that are too exhausting to give myself regularly. I like the one on one. Films are my friends, they take care of me. Maybe we take care of each other? By watching them they get to live, by allowing me to watch them I continue to feel things - human and inspired.

All Night Long (1962) is an exception, a film I can't just turn up to. At the weekend I began watching it in jeans and a t-shirt but felt so slobbish that halfway through I paused and changed into a dress. (This wasn't sufficient but it was better.) One must prepare to watch All Night Long, it is an invitation to a party. You should attend in high spirits, your back straight, head held up.

All Night Long has us gathered in a London jazz club to celebrate the first anniversary of the marriage of musician Aurleius Rex (Paul Harris) and his retired singer wife Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). The party is hosted by friend of the couple, wealthy music promoter Rod Hamilton (a bonny faced Richard Attenborough). The film is a musical insomuch as music gives it life. Chunks of screen time are dedicated to a host of talented and prolific jazz players, including Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. We, the audience are captive in the room, watching the entertainment in real time.

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I don't know much about jazz, I only know what I like when I hear it as a mess of sounds. I know that brass instruments put me in a certain mood. The kind that red lipstick was made for, the kind that makes me want to stand on my tiptoes in black pumps and wear an outfit made of tight and flowing chiffon. I hear a clash of horns, a mewing saxophone, the bellow of a double bass and an urge rises inside of me, I must kohl rim my eyes, I must find myself in the presence of tall men in sharp suits. All Night Long captures these feelings, it makes me want to stroll rather than walk.

The film is a contemporary retelling of Othello, all the elements of Shakespeare's tragedy are in play - love, jealousy, betrayal. Of note is Patrick McGoohan's performance, he is band leader Johnnie Cousin, our Iago, bug eyed in his persistence, playing on the insecurities of his friends and foes in hopes of reaping fame and financial gain. McGoohan is great to watch, impossible not to, hypnotic in that way we all can be when fixed firmly on a task.

Directed by Basil Dearden All Night Long is a British film with a sheen of Americanism, transatlantic accents abound, the cast is multinational and multiracial. Though Othello is a play concerned with race, the film doesn't take it on as a capital issue. Rex happens to be black, Delia happens to be white, they happen to be married. Friendship, success versus greed, working marriages these are the things worth discussing. In this way All Night Long feels ahead of its time, ahead of our time, timeless.

The tone of the film is wonderful, but a plot hole in the final act lets it down, leaves the audience without much needed catharsis after 90 minutes of buildup. Also, personally I'm not keen on Stevens as our Desdemona. Her performance is slight somehow, she is unconvincing as a jazz singer and object of Rex's lust/affection, she is chilly like a draft rather than a breeze.

I hope to one day hold a party like All Night Long. There will be intrigue and deception and secrets that make everyone's hair bigger. The room will pulse with warmth and the energy of outdoor confidence. There will be outstretched limbs and grown up cocktails and much dancing cheek to cheek.