That's the real title ... one of the longest ever appended to
a movie not directed by Lina Wertmueller ...
... and the title is positively normal compared to the movie, which is
an X-rated Broadway-style musical. The creator, Anthony Newley, was a songwriter
and a song-and-dance man whose popular stage successes like Stop the World and Roar of
the Greasepaint were basically just musical autobiographies focusing on his
career in show business, his satyriasis, and his failure to find love. They were played out with a
minimum of characters on a bare stage with few props. As I recall, the same
woman plays all the female characters in Stop the World, while Roar of the
Greasepaint is essentially a two-character play acted out on a giant game board,
the kind of thing Samuel Beckett might have created if he had been into the
English Dance Hall scene.
"Singing and Dancing for Godot."
Hieronymus/Humppe tells the same familiar Newley story, but this time in the form
of a Fellini movie rather than a Beckett play. Writer/director Newley, who also
wrote an original score for the film, made a
metaphorical surrealistic film in which Newley plays a filmmaker making a symbolic,
surrealistic film about his life.
Sounds good already, eh?
The entire film takes place on stage-like sets
constructed on a seaside, where Hieronymus (Newley) performs, has sex, screens
his film-within-a-film, etc. Imagine a brass bed planted in the surf, where Newley
beds his babes while the waves crash around him. Think of Newley standing in
flowing robes on a nearby hilltop, looking down on the beach and singing to what
he believes to be a non-existent God. Stir in the usual Fellini elements to the
stew in your head: living clown-puppets on strings, top-hatted men on stilts,
carousels, pompous movie critics, grotesque chessboards, Death. Now you have the
Tokyo did a nice little illustrated summary if you would like more details.)
That picture is inked in a bit by some gimmicky casting. The legendary old-time vaudevillian Georgie
Jessel plays the Presence of Death, who spends the film wearing a white suit and telling
pointless anecdotes while sipping from a teacup held with white gloves. Jessel's
story-telling style is stiff and deadpan, which Death should be, I suppose. As
as far as I know there's no such thing as livepan. If there were, it would be
exemplified by Hieronymus's mentor, Good Time Eddie Filth, who also seems
to be Satan, and is played with hammy aplomb by yet another showbiz legend, Milton Berle.
Stubby Kaye, another old time song-and-dance man, is in there somewhere as well. The mother of Hieronymus's children is played by Newley's
then-wife Joan Collins, a bit of a legend herself, who hated this film, as well
she might have since it basically consists of her husband burying his head in
other women's crotches.
I'm a big Newley fan, and actually acted in one of his plays back in my
performing days, so I kind of enjoyed this bizarre film back in the day. My college roommate
liked the thing so much that he bought the album and played it again and again
(Nice guy, but a strange man. Last I heard he had been committed to a public
mental institution, which I might have been as well, if I had listened to this
album for another 20 years after graduation.) At any rate, I heard that damned album so many times in
1969 and 1970 that I was actually singing the songs along with Newley and his
Uncle Limelight when I watched the film today, and I remembered almost all of
the words, which is amazing when you consider that Newley himself probably didn't
remember these songs five years after he wrote them!
Hieronymus has a low rating at IMDb and is featured on many of the web sites which specialize in
bad movies, but that doesn't really create a fair picture. After all, it's not
Manos, and my roommate wasn't the only guy who liked it. Roger Ebert awarded
this film three stars! It's not really a bad film so much as an
overly ambitious one. It's a pretentious prisoner of
its time and a vanity project which failed to focus on a potential target audience. The idea of rejigging a Fellini film as
an X-rated musical is high in ambition and low in common sense.
Think of the audiences in Fellini festivals. Now think of the audiences in
Broadway musicals. Now think of the people who went to see X-rated films in
1969. There is some overlap between those groups, but not much, and even the few
common people (me, for example) would observe a different dress and behavior
code when assuming the three separate audience roles, and would not admit to his
friends in each audience that he was also a member of the other groups. Believe
me, I know.
By the way, both Newley and Connie Kreski have passed away,
Connie of lung cancer in 1995, Newley of renal cancer four years later. Jessel
and Berle and the others are long gone, so that
makes Joan Collins, who still seems to be working as much as ever, the only
survivor left from the film's principal cast.
While it was a commercial and artistic failure, Hieronymus is
a must-see for Newley's
fans and is an interesting watch for observers of late sixties culture, because
it is nostalgic
demonstration of the cultural experimentation and exaggeration that then
dominated the zeitgeist. It's not a good movie, but it's original and unusual,
and I still remembered it vividly after 40 years. How many other pornographic Felliniesque Broadway-style musical films can you name?