Archive for December, 2007

Euphoria #4: When Nature Calls

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2007 by dcairns

While I wait for David Ehrenstein’s euphoric nomination to appear on Youtube, I’m jumping ahead to present my partner Fiona Watson’s feelgood film footage. She considered a variety of candidates, many of which Mr. Ehrenstein would approve of, I’m sure: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s rendition of Moses Supposes from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN; Anne Miller dancing to Too Darn Hot in KISS ME KATE or Prehistoric Man in ON THE TOWN; the Marx Brothers going to war in DUCK SOUP (the scene that cures Woody Allen of depression in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS). It’s interesting how musical numbers tend to dominate the field of Cinema Euphoria. Maybe that’s why, in these troublous times, the musical is making a comeback, albeit frequently in a half-arsed fashion (Fiona: “Watching MOULIN ROUGE is like having your eyes pinned open, like the Ludovico Treatment, while someone throws glitter in them, for two hours”).

Anyhow, I was carefully monitoring Fiona’s joy-levels as she watched the clips, and the clear winner was this one:

You probably all know it, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless. Bear in mind, this isn’t about the best cinema, merely the most bliss-inducing, and that’s clearly not the same thing — but this is still a magnificent sequence. The animation of the apes is impressive, they have real weight and substance and meat on their bones, and real bones too. Unlike Jessica Rabbit they aren’t unstructured plastic excrescences, and unlike the Little Mermaid their features don’t float, unmoored, on their faces, like flotsam.

Then there’s the song. The Sherman Brothers had a few years of being able to do no wrong, with fantastic work in THE JUNGLE BOOK, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and MARY POPPINS. Go listen if you don’t believe me. “Me Ole Bamboo” from CCBB is the song all of Scotland will be dancing to tonight.

Fiona and I both groove equally to the scat singing and the more coherent, yet still non sequiteur-ish interjections like “Take me home, daddy!” That always cracks me up. And the words “Not yet Balloo!” have an iconic resonance in our household.

What’s also cool is that when Fiona first saw this, as a tiny tot, she didn’t like it, was seriously freaked out by it, in fact. “I don’t like the monkey! Why are his arms so long?” she cried as she was manoevred from the auditorium. It’s one of the nice things about growing up, we can appreciate the appeal of a singing oran-outan without experiencing the primal terror than initially accompanies his every movement.

And if that’s not something to feel euphoric about, I don’t know what is.

(Euphoria #3 should be along sometime early in the new year)

Things I Read Off the Screen in the Films of Orson Welles

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2007 by dcairns

I’ve long been interested in the use of signs in Orson Welles’ work. I don’t mean symbolism, I mean literal signposts, like the one which begins and ends his very first feature, CITIZEN KANE. A warning to keep out, which is immediately disobeyed by Greg Toland’s camera, which simply cranes up and over the fence, allowing editor Robert Wise to dissolve us ever closer to the forbidden dream palace of Xanadu.

Theory: Welles’ anarchic side is going to make him want to disobey or poke fun at shouty authoritarian signs whenever he can. Let’s see if there’s any basis for this.

DON’T TOUCH THE AXE

At 8.36 into this clip from Welles’ THE STRANGER there’s a modest bit of signage: “KEEP THIS SPACE CLEAR FIRE EQUIPMENT.” Not particularly ironic, although the fugitive Nazi immediately violates the spirit of the fire equipment by trying to grab the axe to murder his pursuer. He’s unable to get ahold of it, suggesting that the fire equipment is noty properly maintained. (I remember a list of movie clichés pointing out that fire extinguishers etc are never used for their proper purpose in films.)

But just moments later, 9.29 in the same clip, is a humdinger. After braining Edward G Robinson with a piece of gymnasiana (I don’t know the technical term for it), the nasty Nazi departs through a Big Door which carries a Big Sign: “ANYONE USING APPARATUS IN THIS ROOM – DOES SO AT THEIR OWN RISK Coach Raskie”. The sign is enormous– obviously Welles really wanted us to get this joke. Sadly we never get to meet this Coach Raskie fellow, a man who, despite his highly developed physique, lives in mortal fear of disgruntled clientele suing him for damages in respect of accidental injuries inflicted with barbells, vaulting-horses and medicine balls.

In LADY FROM SHANGHAI there’s a different kind of sign in the Crazy House sequence, truncated by Columbia Pictures but still enthralling. Giant placards reading STAND UP OR GIVE UP confront Welles as he staggers through the distorted sets and spinning rooms — but though the signs dwarf our protag, he is unable to obey them, as the floor keeps sliding from under his feet. Rather than defying the sign, he would like to follow its advice, but the sign is part of a structure which makes such compliance impossible. This is almost a perfect analogy for the world of film noir, where society imposes firm laws, and strict penalties for breaking them, but seems to make lawful existence difficult by rewarding crime more richly than virtue, and putting temptation in everybody’s path.

What I tell you two times is true.

FRAMED

In TOUCH OF EVIL there’s another example of a sign Welles, or somebody in the edit, was obviously anxious for us not to miss. As Sheriff Hank Quinlan (Welles) departs the sleazy neon-lit hotel room where he’s throttled Akim Tamiroff, drunkenly leaving behind a piece of incriminating evidence, his walking stick. Some commentators have delighted in the perceived pun: Welles is destroyed by his cane / KANE. I think this is a bit too contrived (and I doubt Welles saw KANE that way), and it misses the more filmic joke, the sign on the hotel room door advising guests not to leave anything behind in the room. As Welles shuts the door behind him, an optical zoom and brief freeze-frame make sure we have time to read the warning Quinlan ignores.

You Have Been Warned.

Another cute bit of signage, earlier in the same film, is this baby:

OK, I will!

This one is sort of just quirky scene-setting, in a way. The film abounds with odd details of production design and alluring, decayed textures. But maybe there’s more to be read into it: Chuck Heston is on the phone to his young bride, Janet Leigh, who lies sprawled in pneumatic ‘fifties lingerie in one of her unlucky motels, just at the other end of that phone line. Perhaps Heston is the blind one, blind to her charms, since he can’t see her, and blind to the danger she’s in, since he’s mostly several steps behind Welles’ Sheriff Quinlan. It’s worth recalling, perhaps, that Welles himself hated the telephone, and this may be an attack on that Infernal Contraption: to communicate by Bell’s invention is to render oneself blind.

Just as we can divide the Welles films neatly into those with gunshots and those with snow (only MR ARKADIN has both), we can also find films with signs and films without any writing at all, typically the period films. MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is largely sign-free, and even the credits are spoken by Welles rather than printed. This is carried on in at least one version of OTHELLO and also in the end titles of THE TRIAL, a film set in no particular country, where the presence of any kind of printed matter would be an intrusion, despite all those typewriters clacking away in Joseph K’s giant open-plan office.

Fakery!

F FOR FAKE gives us a series of title cards shrieking FAKE! at us, as well as a pile of film cans with lettering inked across the camera tape sealing the negative in. A stab at a title, ABOUT FAKES, is writted on the top of one can (another misleading sign, since that’s not the name this film generally goes by), and the producer’s credit is signed on a canvas, an ambiguous gesture in a film much concerned with forged signatures.

Illuminated signs, billboards and theatrical posters are perhaps best saved for a separate thread…

The Colour Of Mana

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2007 by dcairns

Crowden in da house.

POW!

Loitering within tent.

POOM!

Jer.

KABOOM!

Stills from THE FINAL PROGRAMME, an amazing pop-sci-fi sextravaganza scripted, directed and designed by the enormous Robert Fuest. Here we see dashing, pill-popping Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Jerry Cornelius (bottom) played by Jon Finch (who deserves rediscovery for being sexy and brilliant here) in search of mad scientists Graham Crowden (also to be seen maddening up Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis trilogy), Basil Henson and George Coulouris (the only member of the cast in CITIZEN KANE who aged something like his character. More on Prophetic Cinema, and the noble Mr. Crowden, soon).

For a while Fuest was a bright-yet-unrecognised light of British Cinema, but he had the bad luck to come along during the collapse in American funding at the start of the seventies. Initially encouraged, then royally shafted, by what Michael Reeves called “those ponces at A.I.P.”, Fuest combined eye-popping visual flair, a traditionally English love for the eccentric and unruly, and a gleeful sadism. In other words, he was a Michael Powell for the rock ‘n’ roll era.

While Michael Reeves was destroyed by depression, recreational drugs, and psychiatry, Fuest was trashed by the film business itself: THE DEVIL’S RAIN was ludicrously recut by the A.I.P. and the industry in the U.K. imploded, leaving Fuest to mostly stifle in TV work, with only one other feature credit in 1982, an intriguing-sounding softcore drama, APHRODITE.

But before that happened, we get not only the above movie, on which more later, but also the two DR PHIBES comedy-horrors with Vincent Price (a third, PHIBES TRIUMPHANT, was stymied by Fuest’s inability to come up with any more elaborately nasty murders), a sombre, skilled and stylish WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and this location-set, brightly daylit psycho-thriller, AND SOON THE DARKNESS (an odd debut for a former production designer since it requires no sets!):

I like the whispery female VO that comes in partway thru, as if someone’s been watching Godard…

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