Archive for March, 2008

Does Anybody Know…?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2008 by dcairns

creepster 

Here’s an odd one. I’ve been reading a film book, Hollywood: The Haunted Houseby Paul Mayersberg (later screenwriter of THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, CROUPIER, and director of 1986 film maudit CAPTIVE, with Ollie Reed), which is smartly written and a fascinating snapshot of a moment during the slow decline and fall of Hollywood.

Mayersburg writes approvingly of creepy troilist Darryl F Zanuck’s return to 20th Century Fox, where he scored a hit with THE LONGEST DAY and attempted to help the ailing studio over the crisis caused by the failure of mega-budget flop-a-roo CLEOPATRA. Of course, this being Hollywood in the early ’70s, disaster lurked around the corner and Zanuck’s second reign would prove short, painful and financially unprofitable.

But what intrigued me is the statement that Zanuck put his son, shark-eyed go-getter Richard Zanuck, in charge of production since he himself was unable to enter the state of California for legal reasons.

...like a doll's eyes...

I figure there has to be an interesting story behind THAT.

Unless it’s a tax thing, but then why wouldn’t Mayersberg say so?

Anybody know?

Quote of the Day: The Bosses of it all

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on March 31, 2008 by dcairns

Ben 

‘Of all the bosses with whom I collaborated, Selznick and Zanuck and Goldwyn were the brightest. David, in the days he loved movie-making, was a brilliant plotter. He could think of twenty different permutations of any given scene without stopping to catch his breath. Darryl was also quick and sharp and plotted at the top of his voice, like a man hollering for help. Goldwyn as a collaborator was inarticulate but stimulating. He filled the room with wonderful panic and beat at your mind like a man in front of a slot-machine shaking it for change.’

~ Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century.

Gotta get this book. A kind-hearted student once photocopied an entire chapter of it, in which Hecht talks about movie censorship. He says that since movies always faded out just as characters were about to have sex, it’s natural to imagine that EVERY fade-out is a prelude to unbridled coupling. Next time you’re watching a 30s or 40s film and it’s proving a disappointment (maybe one of those BOSTON BLACKIE things, they’re dull as all hell), this might be a nice way to enliven it — imaginary intersticial pornography.

Bob and carol and Ted and Blackie

Look sharp, constable!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2008 by dcairns

This little moment, from Billy Wilder’s late-period movie, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, has entered into legend amongst a few friends of mine.

When I showed the film to screenwriter Colin McLaren (ROUNDING UP DONKEYS) some years ago, he was transfixed by this moment and insisted I wind the tape back, so he could enjoy it again, his face illuminated with infantile glee.

A year or so after, I ran the movie again in the company of special effects makeup artist Stephen Murphy (SLEUTH), the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED, and at the same moment.

The mesmerising and unique feature of this scene is the strange, mannered performance of the “actor” playing the policeman. The gag is nothing much, and acts as a slightly unwelcome hiccup in the narrative progression, but the copper’s stylised movements lift it into a new stratosphere of crumminess. It’s a “comedic” performance rather than a funny one — every step the man takes seems to be in quotation marks.

It turns out there’s a story behind this scene, and I found it in Knight Errant, the autobiography of Wilder’s Holmes, Sir Robert Stephens. Comedy actor Bob Todd was supposed to play the part. As part of Benny Hill’s troupe of clowns, and Richard Lester’s informal stock company of bit-part comedians, Todd was a logical choice. Not a terribly strong actor, he was nevertheless inherently amusing.

The Queen

But due to Wilder’s exacting methods, filming overran on the previous scene of the day, so that by the time cinematographer Christopher Challis was ready to turn his camera on the Scotland Yard bobby, Bob had to leave to appear in a play he was performing in the West End. Robert Stephens volunteered his chauffeur for the part, and drilled him in the appropriate comedy movements. That accounts for the cop’s exaggerated mannerisms, which, however, lack the precision of the true clown.

Visual comedy is a very delicate thing! My own brief adventures in the field have only served to show me how much I still need to learn. Wilder himself, an extremely clever visual storyteller in the Hitchcock mode when he felt like it, only dabbled in slapstick, but admired those, like Chaplin and Keaton, who excelled at it. In the ’80s, he would say that the only contemporary film-makers who could do visual gags were Richard Lester and Blake Edwards.

Colin adds:

“It’s on the ninth second. If you watch his truncheon hand, there’s many an inforced WAGGLE to that wrist, as if cranking himself up to fully register the horror of the (some way off) comic soaking. It looks like he’s working the crowd, drawing out applause. It really is terrible. The wrongness is everywhere. The lack of extras and precision of shot make if feel indoors and airless, a bit like MARNIE. And the sombre music hardly aides us in our froth. If you want funny Victorian policemen (and who doesn’t) plump for The Phantom Raspberry Blower. If you want crap, it’s all in the wrist.”

Incident at Loch Ness

More on my outsized love for this film soon.

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