Chilly scenes of winter

The snow and ice out there looked so nice I sent the late William Fraker out to take some snaps of it before it all melts.

Not really, of course. The images are from the opening titles of THE FOX, a DH Lawrence story filmed by Mark Rydell, screenplay by John Lewis Carlino and Howard Koch. Fraker shot it, and it’s visually stunning.

I do tend to find Lawrence rather a load of tosh, but that’s because I’m inclined to find things funny where possible. Lawrence requires you to not do that, I think. In a way, John Boorman might have been a better match for him than Ken Russell, since Boorman similarly defies humour. I mean, I don’t deny that some woman, some time, may have stared into an icy pond and clasped her own breasts, but I can’t imagine she’d have done it with the earnestness and deep meaning suggested here.

Still, the movie has Sandy Dennis, that wonderful, uncontrolled presence, and is supported at either end by the cheekbones of Keir Dullea and Anne Heywood. One of them has a very attractive bob but I won’t spoil it by revealing which.

Koch, of course, had a hand in everything from CASABLANCA to LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN to Welles’s War of the Worlds. Carlino is known to me mainly for the chilling SECONDS. Here’s how his draft of the script for THE FOX begins –

FADE IN

EXTERIOR      FARM AND FIELDS     DAWN

It is dawn. The sun is just peeping over the trees, tinting the snow a faint pink. Fog and mist blend the shapes of trees with the whiteness so that all seems to have an amorphic unreality. There are no outlines, only dark shapes, emerging, blending, merging again. All is silent. There is no wind. Now as the sun moves higher, the mist and fog begins to burn off and shapes begin to define themselves. Thin fibril branches of trees and bushes, sheathed in ice, glistening against the sun. The fantastic geometric patterns of frost. The frozen ripples at the edge of a brook. The nimbus of gossamer-like cocoons and webs, flashing, crystalline, like spun glass. Everything is arrested, balanced, composed.

Incredible as it seems, Fraker manages to get 90% of that up on the screen, and more beautifully than Carlino’s prose can suggest. In particular, the image above revolves from hazy silhouette to solid, detailed form, perhaps in part due to Fraker creeping the shutter open to lighten the image, or maybe it’s a completely genuine Canadian sunrise, I don’t know…

Merry Christmas from the fox and his friends…

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12 Responses to “Chilly scenes of winter”

  1. Carlino also wrote one of precious few Michael Winner movies worth seeking out, The Mechanic.

  2. Alannah Murphy Says:

    Wonderful, thank you for posting this. Will have to check this out sometime.

  3. Ooooh, yes, THE MECHANIC is really good. One of the few times Charles Bronson’s woodenness is used to good effect. And that ending is killer, in more ways than one.

    So was Keir Dullea trying to corner the market on dark movies set in the Winter? Between this and BLACK CHRISTMAS…

  4. The conventional wisdom I’ve always heard is that you should avoid such self-conscious poetics in screenplay writing and just keep it spare and simple. That’s long struck me as half-silly, and I’m always heartened to see fine counterexamples.

  5. I think you should try to write only things which CAN be filmed, otherwise you really are just entertaining yourself. But most screenwriters do sucky prose, and could stand a little more ambition.

    Dullea’s also in Leopard in the Snow, another wintry tale, but not so dark. Carlino’s last credit is Ivan Passer’s Haunted Summer, which I haven’t seen, but seems like a good subject for him.

  6. I knew the name sounded familiar. Acquired MONTE WALSH recently, one of the few films Fraker directed. A subdued, elegiac western with the occasional lighter moment, it stars Lee Marvin, Jack Palance and Jeanne Moreau. And yes, it does have some lovely cinematography.

  7. specterman Says:

    The bob is a platonic form of such severe and abstract beauty that often it seems a crown too heavy for the face that’s bearing it. Thankfully not in Anne Heywood’s case though (sigh). One of those rare faces completely suited to it.

    On the subject of Carlino, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is worth a gander if you haven’t seen it before. A twisted but fascinating movie that could only of ever found the money to make it in the 70′s. Douglas Slocombe’s lens on South Devon is worth it alone; the is scenery both picturesque and sinister.

  8. Yes, I’ve been curious about Sailor since I first read Leslie Halliwell’s spluttering outrage about it.

    And your elegant evocation of the bob’s merits and risks finds an echo in my heart, not to mention Fiona’s.

    I see Fraker and Carlino collaborated again on A Reflection of Fear with Robert Shaw and Sally Kellerman. Wonder what that’s like?

  9. I think of THE FOX as a part of a whole “Blame the tree!” subgenre, of which this can be seen as another example:

    As for the bob in question, it’s so much like that of Glenda Jackson in WOMEN IN LOVE that perhaps it should simply be called “The ‘D.H. Lawrence’.”

  10. Friedkin’s The Guardian would seem to have some tree-horror elements in common.

  11. As long as the topic has derailed into menacing trees, I have to give a mention to Kiyoshi “No Relation” Kurosawa’s rather remarkable “Charisma.”

  12. david wingrove Says:

    Ah, THE SAILOR…Sarah Miles, er, ‘entertaining herself’ in front of a full-length mirror was one of the formative images of my misspent youth.

    So much so that – even though I’ve recently acquired the DVD – I still can’t get up the nerve to watch it. Not being 16 any more, I’ve no idea how I’ll react!

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