Archive for January, 2013

Sure sure

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by dcairns

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Friend, cinematographer, artist, teacher, Scott Ward, who photographed basically everything I made in the last twelve years, from CRY FOR BOBO on, just died. This was the first I’d heard he was even ill. As one friend said, “Of course. That’s exactly what Scott would do.” Part of what made him such an easy collaborator, and such a reliable, efficient creator of elegant, beautiful images was that he avoided fuss.

I had the easiest of relationships with Scott, a collaboration a bit like working with an actor, and I learned every bit as much as I have from the good actors I worked with: Scott’s camera always needed a motivation if you wanted it to move, which was a great lesson to me. He wouldn’t complain, as most actors don’t, but if you saw him looking unhappy he could tell you exactly what was wrong with the shot you were suggesting, and then, only if you asked (and I made it a point to), exactly how you could make it better.

It seemed like we picked up a new catchphrase or running joke together each time we did a film. “That seems like a plan,” was the first, a line we threw around on BOBO every time we arrived on set and worked out what we were doing. The last time we worked together, we found ourselves saying “Sure-sure,” rapid-fire, like Sid Musburger. “Where did that come from?” asked Scott. “The Hudsucker Proxy,” I said. “Yes, but why?” he asked.

I’d never met him before BOBO, and will always be grateful to producer/friend Nigel Smith for introducing us. Scott instantly endeared himself to me by his communicativeness, sensitivity and the gorgeous footage he created every single day. And he was fast, which a director always appreciates. I guess he’s also responsible for the title of this blog, since I asked about noir lighting when I interviewed him for the gig and he said something like “Yes, I flatter myself I’m quite good at shadowplay.” He sure was.

I learned every time I worked with Scott, and when I taught alongside him. He did a devastating critique of Stanley Kubrick’s use of candlelight in BARRY LYNDON — “Of course it’s interesting, but because they’re augmenting the candlelight you can see in shot with huge banks of hundreds of candles out of shot, you lose the flicker, and so what you end up with doesn’t look very much like candlelight at all. Certainly less like what you could get just by faking it with an electric light on a dimmer.” Same for the cab interiors in COLLATERAL, where they coated the whole vehicle with reflective stuff to bounce the light around, resulting in something spectacular but totally unrealistic. Scott could be very funny about the fetish for natural light: “It just seems weird to me that you’ve got all this other kit that you have to bring, but you’re not allowed to use your lights.”

And his greatest tenet, applied to film-making technique of course, but it seems to me applicable elsewhere in his life and ours: “You get rewarded for bravery, always.”

Scott filmed our “reconstructions” for the forthcoming NATAN, and I had no idea he was ill or that it was to be his last shoot. But I’m told by Minttu, his wife, that he was glad to finish his career with something about cinema. He loved cinema.

scott

Scott (left) and me, INSIDE AN UNCLE.

They Go Boom

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by dcairns

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More Frankenheimer thick-ear for your questionable delectation. BLACK SUNDAY is a latter-day Robert Evans production, and it’s shocking to see how pointless Evans’ cinema got, how fast, after he stopped being the big man at Paramount. The movie, based on a pre-Hannibal Lector Thomas Harris thriller, deals with a plot by Palestinian terrorist Marthe Keller, in cahoots with deranged Vietnam vet Bruce Dern (typecasting is a wonderful thing, sometimes) to blow up the superbowl using the Goodyear blimp, some plastic explosives smuggled Stateside as plaster madonnas, and a lot of rifle darts, making the world’s biggest nail bomb.

It’s slick, kind of meaningless, very violent (the Japanese sea captain getting his head blown off by a telephone is an early highlight) and made with Frankenheimer’s trademark professionalism and dynamism, but all that rather counts for nothing. John Alonso’s photography is very fine but this isn’t CHINATOWN.

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dead bang

Leading man/growling muscle Robert Shaw plays a Mossad agent nicknamed “the Final Solution,” which gives you some idea of the taste level. Much of the story is a paean to the efficacy of torture and intimidation in getting people to do what you want, and it isn’t very convincing. But Shaw does get the film’s only laugh when he sticks a gun in a man’s mouth and demands his assistance: “Nod for ‘yes’, die for ‘no’.”

Pretty corrupt stuff, even by the standards of modern action movies and things like the unlamented 24. Frankenheimer was often characterised as a liberal, but that gives you plenty of rope in America. I do remember one interview in a short study of his career where he kept referring to “the negro problem.” What he said about this issue wasn’t overtly offensive, or even very meaningful, but the phrase struck me as deeply problematic, not because of the lesser N word (it was the sixties, that was the preferred term) but because the construction implies “there’s a problem because there are these people called negroes”… it’s a bit like saying “the Jewish question”, isn’t it?

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Aside from Shaw’s scowling menace, Bruce Dern is fun (when is he ever not?) and Marthe Keller confirms the impression I received from CARLOS — forget Hollywood, all the really hot chicks are in international terrorism. She also plays it like she’s the heroine rather than the villain, which is a shrewd choice.

Suddenly remembered that in his self-serving autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans puts the blame for all the less inspired decisions made at Paramount on Charlie Bluhdorn, head of Engulf & Devour Gulf & Western, Paramount’s parent company. In particular, the studio’s failed attempts to make a star out of Serbo-Croatian hunk Bekim Fehmiu are attributed to Bluhdorn alone. And yet here’s Fehmiu, quite effective as a Palestinian bad guy.

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Frankenheimer, who cameos as a sweary TV director, (almost as bad type-casting as Dern’s deranged Nam vet) brings to the pointless carnage his usual dogged professionalism, dynamism, and eye for nasty detail. Unfortuntely the special effects team aren’t quite up to rendering the blimp climax in a photorealistic manner — some striking shots are let down by lame process work elsewhere, and the frenzied montage is a dead giveaway that cinematic jiggery-pokery is being deployed. Poor Frankenheimer would once again have to base a film around an impossibility when he made mutant bear movie PROPHECY. How much drink did he have to put away to survive that one?

Film Directors with Everything Off: La Bruce

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Bruce Robinson goes porno in KLEINHOFF HOTEL.

“I’ve never seen it. It was basically high-class pornography. A Baader Meinhoff terrorist on the run — me — checks into a hotel to kill himself. Meanwhile, for whatever reason, this beautiful French woman in the next room is watching this man through a crack in the adjoining door, and she decides that she wants to fuck him. [Italian accent] ‘Try and get an erection, Bruce.’ I’m like, ‘Fuck off! Get an erection, with fifty people standing here?’ One lunchtime one of the prop men comes up to me with a box that looks like it contains duelling pistols, and there are all these fake dicks in there and he wants me to strap one on. I thought, ‘Christ almighty! I’ve been to drama school! No!’ It was a very rude film. Lots of ridiculous sex scenes that were the most unusual things I’ve ever done.”

From Smoking in Bed, Conversations with Bruce Robinson, edited by Alistair Owen.

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Yeah, the film really isn’t very good. Robinson already had his writing career up and running, though, so this was virtually his swan song to acting.

On to nobler things, such as Universal horror limericks! We’ve been chronicling the adventures of the SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in rhyming form over at Limerwrecks, and my contributions are here and here , while I sing the praises of Joseph H Lewis’s THE BIG COMBO here , here, and especially right here (continuing the oral theme from above).

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