Archive for May, 2010

Paroxysm

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2010 by dcairns

“Freda’s THE TERROR OF DR HICHCOCK has an extraordinary funeral sequence. Black-clad mourners in black umbrellas walk under a silvery glitter of sunlit rain; they pass bright flowers; the grain of the coffin is warmly visible in the sun. The living wood… As the procession passes a row of silhouetted, green-tinged cypresses, a shaft of sunlight pours down on them and for a split second is broken up by the camera lens into all the colours of the rainbow. ‘Artificial’ as it is — the human eye wouldn’t see it — the effect ‘fits’, because it lifts to the level of paroxysm the tragic irony of sunlight at a young woman’s funeral.”

~ Raymond Durgnat.

Ashamed of how long it’s taken me to appreciate just how splendid his writing is. I corresponded with the Great Man late in his life, but I was mainly concerned with buying some rare movies from him (Michael Powell’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE), and I thought his prices a bit steep. Then he misattributed some garbled nonsense to me in his PSYCHO book, a work which I think betrays slightly his ill-health at the time of writing.

Now that I’m seriously reading The Crazy Mirror and Jean Renoir, I’m overcome with admiration for Durgant’s zestful and gripping way with both ideas and language, and also the bracing manner in which he shifts from high to low cinema without giving a hoot about class distinctions.

Riccardo Freda, on the other hand, is someone I already appreciated somewhat, having picked up a VHS of LA DOPPIA FACCIA in Berlin. David Wingrove encouraged me to see more, and TRAGIC CEREMONY was a mindblower. Freda isn’t as consistently gorgeous visually as Bava, but hits memorable highs and maybe takes a more intellectual approach. Although this manifests itself very oddly. HICHCOCK never even tries to make sense, and despite borrowings from both SUSPICION (nasty milk) and PSYCHO (doubled identities and schizoid delusions) it markedly refuses to wrap itself up with a cosy epilogue, despite a hero who’s studied under Freud and seems custom-written to perform such a function.

(Since the next draft of the script Fiona and I have been working on has to incorporate changes that don’t seem to make rational sense, which is worrying to my pedantic side, I should probably immerse myself in Italian horror, which follows what Dario Argento calls a “non-Cartesian” dramatic logic, and appeals to what Keats called negative capability — one’s ability to appreciate something without wholly understanding it; in fact, one’s ability to appreciate an object for its mystery.)

Freda’s career stretches from big Mussolini-era costume flicks, to the fantastical works he’s best known for, to his sidekick act opposite Bertrand Tavernier (an odd couple indeed). Tavernier managed to put together D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER for Freda to helm, aged 83, but Sophie Marceau seems to have had him fired, forcing Tavernier to complete the film. Boo! I read an interview with Marceau where she said she was dissatisfied with the resulting film because it should have been more about her. Marceau probably ought to make like her more talented namesake and keep her damn mouth shut.

Enjoying HICHCOCK so much has put me in the mood to re-see it’s quasi/pseudo/non-sequel, THE GHOST, which transports Dr. H (who conclusively died in the previous film) to sunny Scotland…

Perfectly Frank

Posted in FILM with tags , , on May 31, 2010 by dcairns

A title card from Riccardo Freda’s THE HORRIBLE SECRET OF DOCTOR HICHCOCK (sic).

Obviously, it’s the second name down that amuses me in puerile fashion. Doubtless a literal translation of an Italian name that sounds perfectly reasonable in its native language. The credits also feature an “Evar Simpsom,” which is arguably even funnier but in a subtler way. And “Inoa Starly” is just poetic as hell.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Man in Black

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by dcairns

Thanks to a not-quite-chance remark by one-man blogstorm Glenn Kenny on FaceBook, I found myself reflecting on my deplorable lack of direct experience in the matter of Tom Mix. I mainly knew the western star from his image on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s, and from a possibly untrue story put about by sci-fi novelist Philip Jose Farmer that Mix died when he crashed his car and a metal suitcase containing a million dollars was flung forward from the back seat of his roadster, breaking his neck.

(The director of today’s epic, Lynn Reynolds, also died young, shooting himself at a party after quarreling with his wife. PISTOLS DON’T ARGUE.

Clearly, it was time to lose my Mix virginity, and the film to do it with was RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE. Based on a Zane Grey novel, and surprisingly hard-edged, this is a tale of long-deferred vengeance comparable to THE SEARCHERS and RANCHO NOTORIOUS in its toughness and single-minded patience. All the stereotypes you could wish are present and correct, but their 1920s versions are so old as to be new, they all come with little variations that amuse and crinkle the eyes. Domestic life is introduced as a rapid-fire whirl of headache and fuss, about as far from the docile domesticity celebrated in John Ford as you can get.

Villains are oily, educated, and sort of soft, as typified by Warner Oland, the inscrutable Swede daringly cast in a non-Chinese role. A baggy, shifty, pouch of a face, barely sufficient to contain the guts of his head.

Heroes are tough, beautiful, direct, simple. Tom Mix, as hard and sharp as a man chiseled from diamond. While everybody else rides dusty and threadbare, Mix is pretty rock ‘n’ roll in his shiny black duds and hair-oil. Face like an overweight knife. Lose the single glove though, it makes you look psycho.

With a big budget, Lynn Reynolds could employ fifty head of cattle for each intertitle.

Underplaying in the best western tradition, Mix manages to seem pretty cool despite the borderline ridiculous costume and proto-clichéd attitude. He’s definitely got something! The movie rattles along, surprisingly fast-cut and complicated: I haven’t seen a cowboy flick this overstuffed with characters and incidents since SILVERADO. In one dazzling sequence, he survives unscathed when shot off his horse (how?), but can’t raise his head above sagebrush level as he’s surrounded by desperadoes. Lassooing his saddle, he swiftly improvises a sled made from branches, and has his horse tow him from the scene, raising a dust trail that chokes and befuddles his pursuers. I am frankly astounded I haven’t seen that trick in another movie.

Intriguingly, the distrust of civilisation that animates, say, STAGECOACH, is already present, with the representatives of law being corrupt and vicious (Mix heroically shoots a judge in his courtroom!) and the happy ending located in a lost valley (probably dinosaur-infested) away from the rest of humankind. Rousseau would have liked westerns.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers