Archive for January 18, 2008

Let the Shadows Play

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

Maurice Binder’s titles for Ken Russell’s THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (the second sequel to THE IPCRESS FILE with Michael Caine).

Saul Bass gets a very good press, and rightly so, but maybe we should also talk more about Maurice Binder? While Bass is more consistently elegant and tasteful, Binder could be guilty of breathtaking kitsch (those later Bond titles!), as well as more classical work.

ARABESQUE is a film made by Stanley Donen, who told his cinematographer, the great Christopher Challis (TALES OF HOFFMAN) that the script was so bad their only hope was to try every crazy photographic trick in the book. It works! The presence of Sophia Loren and Alan Badel also help compensate for the fey script and the usual Gregory Peck drag-factor.

A similar contempt for the story enlivens THE IPCRESS FILE, where director Sid Furie started the shoot by tearing up and stamping on his script in front of the whole crew. “THAT’S what I think of THAT!”

Michael Caine supposes he must have had to borrow somebody else’s copy for the rest of the film.

Anyhow, Binder certainly gets these films off to a groovy start. I once asked production designer Ken Adam about Binder. The two had worked on many of the same James Bond films. I made the mistake of pronouncing the name “Morris Bynd-er”. But Binder was a German like Adam himself:

“Maw-reece Bin-der,” he enunciated, “was a lovely man, who liked, very much, to photograph silhouetted naked ladies.”

Well, yes.

no mister bond, I expect you to die

Binder himself told the story of his struggle with a model’s pubic hair, which stuck out in a censorable mohawk formation, visible as she turned in silhouette. ‘She wouldn’t shave, so I thought I’d smooth it down with vaseline. I was just patting it down when [producer] Cubby Broccoli walked in. He just looked at me, then said, “Maurice, I think maybe I am paying you too much.”‘

private

Maybe sometime I’ll post the titles of Billy Wilder’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, a favourite film of mine. Elegant and witty credits by Binder, with Miklos Rosza’s finest and most melancholy score. ‘Why is it so SAD?’ asks Fiona. The violin theme started life as a concerto by Rosza, and Wilder listened to it while writing the script. The sadness seeped into the comedy, making for Wilder’s most deeply-felt work since maybe THE APARTMENT. It’s also Wilder’s SCOTTISH FILM and makes better use of Robert Stephens’ unique gifts than any other movie — although working with Wilder was so stressful for Stephens, he attempted suicide partway through the shoot.

Good Queen Billy

(While Mitchell Leisen would annoy Wilder by cutting his scripts to make things more comfortable for the actors, Wilder, it seems, never did ANYTHING for the comfort of his actors…)

My friend Roland suggests that you tend to find the best title sequences attached to the worst films, and there are certainly cases of that, but as long as there are films like TPLOSH around, I can’t subscribe to that as a guiding principle.

Quote of the Day: Crouching monster, Hidden city

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

london belongs to me 

‘London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.

The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.’

night train

Words from Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, images from Gustave Dore’s London and David Lean and Noel Coward’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER.

*

Just read that David Sherwin has been writing a script of Hamilton’s book. Genius Sherwin, who wrote Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis Trilogy, must have stacks of unproduced scripts (THE MONSTER BUTLER and THE GARDEN GNOMES BEGAN TO BLEED are but two), but I would really like to see this one come off…

Euphoria #22: In the middle of nowhere…

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2008 by dcairns

Vincent Ranaldi, sci-fi and movie buff extraordinaire, suggests the opening journey from Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful SPIRITED AWAY as a prime example of Cinema Euphoria, the gift that keeps on giving.

I was into this guy before anybody! Anybody in Edinburgh, anyway. Me and my friends were into him, anyway, thanks to Kiyoyuki Murakami, who was our fellow student at Edinburgh College of Art. Back around 1990, none of Miyazaki’s movies had been translated and released in the west, except for bad dubs of LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND and CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (the standard-issue Japanime Cute Girl characters always sounded like Sunset  Strip hookers). Nobody had even heard of TOTORRO.

there goes the neighbourhood

Kiyo had VHS copies of most of Miyazaki’s work up to that point (PORCO ROSSO was the latest) and it was unbelievably amazing to us. I was blown away by the variations in pacing, unheard-of in American or European animation (VERY fast + VERY slow) and I loved Miyazaki’s skewed takes on British culture and landscapes (LAPUTA is purportedly inspired by Miyazaki’s visit to Yorkshire at the time of the ’80s miners’ strike, but to British audiences it’s still a bizarre Neverland). Simon Fraser, a cartoonist himself, as well as a film student, was captivated by the design as well as the storytelling.

Kiyo even produced episodes of LUPIN THE 3RD directed by Miyazaki, including one with a giant Spruce Goose aircraft that TRANSFORMS into an IRON GIANT, prefiguring the Ted Hughes Iron Man type robots from LAPUTA. (I’m guessing the title of that one, derived from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, was altered to CASTLE IN THE SKY because the suits at Disney  realised that La Putais Spanish for “whore”). And there was really early stuff like PANDA KOPANDA, which is drawn in a completely different style from later Studio Ghibli stuff. The panda is a big friendly guy who sounds like an old wino.

wookie

None of this stuff had subtitles, so we coped with Kiyo’s minimalist live translations — as a Benshi film describer he was not quite as precise as David Wingrove, who is like a human babelfish converting European cinema into English as you watch — Kiyo would basically give a one-sentence summary of what had just passed in each scene. Miyazaki’s plots err towards the minimal and underexplained, so this was generally fine.

‘Why can’t Kiki fly anymore?’ we would ask.

‘Not, uh, really explained,’ said Kiyo.

So we would fall back on the stunning images to guide us.

The sense of place in H.M.’s films is always really strong. I’d love to visit the sparkling Mediterranean islands of PORCO ROSSO, the coastal town of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, and especially the decayed island in the sky from LAPUTA.

swift island

SPIRITED AWAY opens with smart character intros but also a great landscape and a Lewis-Carrollian journey from everyday norm to a World of Fantasy and Strange Peril. It’s this magic evocation of place and time and noplace and notime that I think made Vince choose this sequence out of all Miyazaki’s work.

Footnote: have people out there seen GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES? Isn’t it AMAZING?

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