With Charlotte Rampling, the indubitable screen legend, and Tom Courtenay, the great English actor, both winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress and Best Actor, for the movie 45 Years at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, it reminds me of the happy memories of a celebrity book Quartet published in 1987 entitled Charlotte Rampling with Compliments.
It was a collation of snapshots, fashion shots and movie stills of the star over a period of twenty years. The Standard commented at the time, ‘The divine Charlotte Rampling has been turning strong men to porridge ever since her debut in 1965 as a water-skiing nymph in Richard Lester’s The Knack. Now one of her most devoted fans, Mr Naim Attallah, the Arabian connoisseur of the fair sex, is bringing out a book …’
Another admirer, Dirk Bogarde, who starred with her in The Night Porter, contributed an introductory portrait of the actress: ‘She was as free, simple and skittish as a foal, hair tumbling in a golden fall about her…the grace of a panther…the almost incredible perfection of her bone structure.’
The Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima, who had directed her in Max My Love, in which she co-starred with an ape, contributed four pages of painstakingly drawn Japanese ideograms in celebration of his leading lady.
Both contributions gushed shamelessly and showed the amount of love and admiration people in show business felt for her.
I was particularly glad to be publishing this book. In 1973, when Charlotte Rampling starred in The Night Porter with Bogarde, she began to inhabit the dreams of a whole generation of men. I, for one, had never recovered from the sight of her straddling Dirk Bogarde, and the image remained in my mind like an old sepia photograph. In the film she played a young girl who blossomed into a sophisticated woman, and her performance was so haunting as to move one critic compare her with Garbo. Two years later, in the 1975 remake of Farewell My Lovely, her seductiveness was supreme yet perfectly contained.
When I met her in the 1980s, I found the real Rampling even more compelling than the screen version. She struck me as both exotic and English – a near contradiction in terms – and she underplayed her sex symbol status with a rare intelligence, despite the allure of her emerald green eyes, her velvety voice and the perfection of her bone structure.
Underneath the poise, however, Charlotte Rampling seemed haunted by demons. As the daughter of an army colonel, she had had an unsettled – and sometimes unhappy – childhood. She had felt rejected by her mother in favour of her older sister, who later died tragically at the age of only twenty-three.
Charlotte reacted by exceeding the traditional boundaries of women’s lives. During the 1960s, when everyone else was on CND marches or off to India
doing ashrams, she went to live with gypsies in Afghanistan (a dangerous and violent experience) and later to a Tibetan monastery in Scotland. By the time she was twenty-two, she was in Hollywood and had earned herself the title of ‘Europe’s kinky sex-film queen’ by living in a ménage à trois with Brian Southcombe and a male model. Later she told me that she had loved both men but, to spare her parents’ feelings, thought it best to marry one of them.
In 1976, she met Jean-Michel Jarre at the Cannes Film Festival after what she described as a coup de foudre, and the following year they married; unfortunately they are now divorced. Jarre was a highly successful composer and musician with an international following.
Looked at from the outside, they seemed like a dream couple, combining art, beauty, glamour and
intelligence in enviable proportions. It could have been an ideal partnership, but it was never likely that Charlotte Rampling would subscribe to the Jane Austen view of marriage as a woman’s principal act of self-definition. Rampling was always far too unconventional ever to be defined by marriage. ‘Jean-Michel and I are very marginale, as we say in French,’ she told me. ‘We do things which are off the beaten track.’
Just as she had always chosen cinematic roles that explored the darker side of human nature, so she was given to delving deep into her own soul. More than once she had suffered depression and come close to nervous breakdown.
Evidently it was improbable that marriage would ever bring her stability in the conventional sense; rather, it was always likely to be a continuation of the restlessness from which she could never find a refuge. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. She was truly a woman to break boundaries.
Charlotte Rampling with Compliments was virtually a biography, but it told its story visually. It illustrated the early modelling career of the beautiful girl in the London of the Swinging Sixties as well as documenting the international film career that followed for her soon after.
Fashion photographers, including the world-famous Helmut Newton, David Bailey and Cecil Beaton, captured her compelling, enigmatic moods, which were often mysteriously melancholic and invariably conveyed an erotic aura of unique intensity. The volume was also beautifully produced and it did well commercially.
It created a good rapport with Charlotte, which led to her becoming yet another candidate for my projected book of interviews for women.