Archive for June, 2011

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Fourth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 27, 2011 by dcairns

But first, a Vincent Price limerick, co-athored by your friend and humble narrator, here.

In episode four, the various “narrative strands”, if I can so dignify them, start to draw together at last, into a dank tangle. I attempt my first ever “meet cute”, leading to what one appreciative reader called “the crap, faux-Bill Forsyth stuff.” But I think the story needed some calm, less psychotic stuff, especially since my impatience with writing straight-man characters leads me to try and do for Lothian and Borders Police what David Lynch did for/to the FBI.

Now read on…

INT. DORMITORY, POLICE STATION – NIGHT

A BED. The plump, middle-aged INSPECTOR DUFFLE shifts uncomfortably in his sleep…

EXT. ZOO – NIGHT

Howie finds a notice pasted on his cage, covering the “human” sign. He peels it off and looks.

DRIVE THE CAPYBARAS FROM OUR SHORES!

CAPYBARAS UNFAIR TO PENGUINS!

KILL! KILL! KILL THEM ALL!

He frowns.

INT. INTERVIEW ROOM, POLICE STATION – DAY

Sheena is shown in by the idiot PC Thrower. She has Edward Woodward contained in a plastic case (or “pet taxi”).

Inspector Turner looks through the barred front of the pet taxi and scribbles in his NOTEBOOK.

TURNER

I see what you mean.

SHEENA

(angry)

And what are you going to DO about it?

TURNER

Well, he – it is a he? – he doesn’t seem to be in any distress…

Edward Woodward meows. A banjo is plucked.

Sheena and Turner argue.

SHEENA

He’s been blacked up! He looks ridiculous!

TURNER

(uncomfortable)

I’m more concerned about how someone could get into your flat without breaking any locks.

SHEENA

I think he’s a contortionist.

TURNER

Hmm. Look, this is an unusual case for us, but since you work for the Blue Museum I want to make sure we do everything we can. Plus… for reasons I can’t go into, we’re paying particular attention to any unusual incidents at the moment.

SHEENA

And so…

TURNER

I think we should go and see Detective Inspector Duffle. He has his own methods. Unconventional, but sometimes effective.

INT. DORMITORY, POLICE STATION – DAY

Duffle still snoozes.

TURNER (OS)

Gerry Duffle suffered a nasty brain wound in 1997 while trying to apprehend, er, a cat burglar. No offence.

SHEENA

Go on.

TURNER

The accident left him with – that thing where you fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. Narcolepsy. Well, it looked like his career in the force was finished. But then a funny thing happened. He would fall asleep studying the files, and then dream up the most extraordinary solutions. Since his conscious mind couldn’t exercise its crime-solving prowess, his unconscious mind took over.

SHEENA

That’s amazing.

TURNER

It gets amazinger. Duffle’s conscious hours have been getting more scarce. He’s almost in a full-time coma. But we play him tape recordings, over and over, of the details of our problem cases, WHILE HE’S ASLEEP. If he wakes up for five minutes, he often has an answer.

SHEENA

So what are you suggesting?

TURNER

Tell him about your cat. Just whisper in his ear. When he next wakes up, he may have the culprit’s name and address for us.

Sheena approaches the bed. Then she stops and turns.

SHEENA

Look, are you taking the piss?

INT. MUSIC HALL – NIGHT (DREAM)

In the eerie glow of the limelight, a huge old bakelite radio accompanies Sheena, dressed as a blackface minstrel, singing operatically:

SHEENA

Meeoowww! Meeoooooow! Meeeeeeow!

A shot rings out. Sheena spasms and staggers over to a stand, upon which sheets of paper announce each act in ornate Victorian lettering.

Written on the first sheet is the name EDWARD WOODWARD.

The Minstrel Sheena clutches the sheet and drops dead. The paper tears, revealing the bill underneath – “The Mysterious Mr. If.”

INT. DORMITORY, POLICE STATION – DAY

Duffle stirs in his sleep as Sheena whispers in his ear.

KNOCK KNOCK.

Constable Thrower pops his head round the door.

PC THROWER

Inspector Turner – there’s a great disturbance at the zoo!

Sheena straightens up and looks a question at Turner.

TURNER

Yes. It could be related. Care to come along?

EXT. ZOO – DAY

The Zookeeper hurries about wielding a large butterfly net, and an expression of panic. Penguins rampage generally.

Hate literature blows around – DEATH TO CAPYBARAS, DOWN WITH PENGUINS, LOCK THEM UP, SEND THEM BACK…

Forensic Nerds take pictures and dust the cages. Zookeepers and Constables try to round up the marauding arctic birds.

TURNER

What the hell happened here?

ZOOKEEPER

Jings, it’s a good job they’re flightless. They just ran amuck, when I was giving them their walk. Laid siege to the capybara pen, so they did.

TURNER

This is unusual behaviour for penguins?

ZOOKEEPER

Unheard of! We never had any hassle from them before. Someone must have STIRRED THEM UP!

He glowers at Howie, who’s watching from his cage in fascination.

Turner looks over, sees the human exhibit, and then dismisses it from his mind. It couldn’t be…

He leans for support against the cage. Sheena approaches, concerned.

SHEENA

Are you alright?

TURNER

Fine. It’s just…I’ve always had a horror of flightless birds. They’ve got no hands! And those pointy faces… you can’t tell what they’re thinking…

He composes himself and goes off to supervise the last of the penguins being loaded into a Black Maria van.

Sheena notices Howie and approaches him.

Edward Woodward looks through the bars of his pet taxi.

Howie looks through the bars of his cage. An understanding seems to pass between them.

SHEENA

Umm. I’m Sheena McQueen.

HOWIE

Howie.

SHEENA

Hello. What you doing in there?

HOWIE

Oh. I live here.

Pause.

SHEENA

Well…WHY?

HOWIE

Umm. I didn’t have anywhere to stay. But wild animals have a place to stay, don’t they? So I moved in here. It’s like Noah’sArk, they had everything except people, so I though they could use one. I’m the human exhibit.

The Zookeeper staggers past, wrestling several penguins.

SHEENA

Do they know about you?

HOWIE

Most of them don’t seem to mind. They keep threatening to tell the boss, but nobody’s ever seen him. You go into his office and there’s just a curtain with a shadow on it.

SHEENA

Is that true?

HOWIE

No, I made that bit up. Look, have you got any chocolate on you? I’m getting a bit tired of monkey nuts to be honest.

SHEENA

How long have you been here?

HOWIE

Three days.

SHEENA

And is this what you wanted to do?

HOWIE

What about you? When you were a kid, did you want to be a -

(looks her up and down)

- tartan clad minstrel cat carrier?

SHEENA

If you must know, I wanted to be a detective. But there’s a height restriction. So I’m a police tour guide, which is very…

She struggles to finish the sentence in an empowering but convincing manner.

HOWIE

Crap?

SHEENA

Yes.

ZOOKEEPER

Hoy! Feeding time!

He chucks Howie a fish supper wrapped in newspaper.

ZOOKEEPER

I shouldn’t be doing this. Encouraging a nutter.

He waddles off.

HOWIE

I think he’s just happy I didn’t climb in the lion’s den. Chip?

SHEENA

Mmm!

HOWIE

Come on in, it’s not locked.

EXT. ZOO – DAY (LATER)

Howie and Sheena sit on the floor of the cage, devouring the fish supper.

HOWIE

It’s the work of an outside agitator. Penguins and capybaras are not natural enemies in the wild. They live side by side in peaceful coexistence.

SHEENA

On different continents.

HOWIE

Well, that always helps, doesn’t it? I get on much better with my mum since she fucked off toAustralia.

They eat on, watched by a SCHOOL OUTING.

HOWIE

So what’s with the cat?

SHEENA

His name’s Edward Woodward. Someone sneaked into my flat and blacked him up. I went to the police and they gave me a lift here.

HOWIE

Oh. Why?

SHEENA

“Why?” to which part?

HOWIE

“Why?” to the lot of it. It’s bollocks, it’s completely crazy.

SHEENA

You live in a zoo.

HOWIE

I may live in a zoo, but I don’t walk the streets with a feline minstrel act under my arm.

Sheena feeds Edward Woodward bits of fish between the bars of his taxi.

SHEENA

I like you. You’re strange.

HOWIE

Here’s the secret: every day, do something you’ve never done before. What have you done lately for the first time?

SHEENA

Hmmm… Yesterday I took my work home with me. That is, I stole a file and brought it back to my flat.

HOWIE

Not bad. I taught a parrot to say “I’m innocent! Get me the Brazilian ambassador.”

The zoo clock chimes: BONG!

SHEENA

Shit. I have to go to work. Can I trust you to look after Edward Woodward?

Howie “mmm”s through his last mouthful of chips and scrunches up the wrapping. We glimpse a headline: LIGHTHOUSE POISONED, with a photo of a queasy beacon.

INT. DORMITORY, POLICE STATION – DAY

Duffle wakes up sharply and pulls a bell cord by his bed.

Turner rushes in with Constable Thrower and a POLICE NERD.

DUFFLE

(drowsy)

If! If! He’s back! Oh knickers…

How’s that for a cliffhanger? TO BE CONTINUED…

The Sunday Intertitle: Another Thin Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , on June 26, 2011 by dcairns

“Ah, there they are!”

In DIE LUSTIGEN VAGABUNDEN (1913), German comic Karl Valentin chases two tramps and is roundly humiliated by them. Humorous scrapes include Valentin bruising his coccyx on a see-saw, and impaling his collar on a spiked fence, which causes his tongue to protrude in an amusing parody of asphyxiation.

I am indebted to Damon Smith for news of Valentin’s existence, which had hitherto escaped me.

To be honest, I don’t find KV’s antics particularly funny, but they are intensely interesting, due largely to his grotesque appearance. A stick-thin, insectoid freak, Valentin got by with face-pulling and crude gesticulation rather than sophisticated material or physical aptitude, but his body and face are so impressively malformed and malleable, surprising and displeasing from every angle and equally repellant whether stationary or in motion, that he achieves a kind of negative star quality. And the guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

In DER NEUE SCHREIBTISCH (also 1913), Valentin is accompanied by a strange dwarf, the better to show off his skeletal frame. A burlesque of Death stands next to an erect baby. The effect is creepy, a bad dream viewed through the wrong end of a telescope.

Put on a happy face

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on June 25, 2011 by dcairns

Alex de la Iglesia’s THE LAST CIRCUS (or THE BALLAD OF THE SAD TRUMPET, to give it a more literal translation from the Spanish) parallels the history of Franco’s Spain, incorporating several real-life events, with the fictional story of a not-so-romantic triangle involving a beautiful trapeze artist and two clowns. Javier is a chubby, traumatized survivor of the Civil War, while Sergio is an abusive bully. The storyline, covering decades, attempts a novelistic sprawl while referencing works such as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and KING KONG. It’s a black comedy/horror/melodrama, or something.

You know how every European co-production seems to begin with about twenty logos from participating production companies and distributors? Iglesia’s solution to that is ingenious, pasting a burst of children’s laughter over each title, building to the film’s true opening, and he follows with a characteristically dynamic and stylish title sequence. Then the trouble starts.

Iglesia has always been quite frank about his fear of women (really a fear of sexually desirable women), but he’s always struggled to do anything interesting with it beyond expressing hostility in markedly unpleasant ways. His first feature, ACCION MUTANTE (1992), co-produced by Almodóvar, attempts to ring comedy from a woman having her mouth stapled shut, and the otherwise amusing DAY OF THE BEAST (1995) has a female population of identically voluptuous stereotypes.

In The Last Circus, the director makes the unpardonable error of conflating domestic violence with masochism. The heroine is kicked unconscious in practically her first scene, and awakens to sensuously lick the blood off her lips. So that’s why women stay with violent boyfriends?

Even if one can overlook such ugly, incurious psychology, the film’s broken-backed narrative eventually loses all cohesion and fizzles out with nothing really solved or addressed. There are certainly memorable images and moments along the way, as Iglesia is a fearless stylist with a love of the extreme. But he does miss the casting coup of the century: when Generalissimo Franco turns up, old and withered, he surely could and surely should have been played by Jess Franco.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 435 other followers