Archive for the FILM Category

Stab Me, Sugar

Posted in Dance, FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2014 by dcairns

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Vincente Minnelli’s THE BAND WAGON, which Fiona had never seen, was a big hit with us — viewed with friends Nicola & Donald. It has just enough story — it doesn’t plummet into an endless ballet like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Too much narrative might be a problem — musicals seem to exist in an unusual relationship to plot, with progress essentially halting for each number, which freezes a moment of happiness or sadness and extends it and wallows in it. This being a putting-on-a-show story, it has license to depart even further from the spine — especially since, as in most movies where a show of some kind features, the play being staged, inexplicably called The Band Wagon, seems to be a mishmash of disconnected songs, a revue of sorts, even though we’re TOLD it has a story, which is even summarised for us at the start. When you try to make the songs fit the outline, however, you find that they don’t, except the big one ~

The Girl Hunt, choreographed by Michael Kidd, spoofs Mickey Spillane, and allows screenwriters Comden & Green to extend their satiric twinkliness into a song-and-dance for once. We were particularly impressed by the various book titles displayed at the start, (KILL ME CUTIE, STAB ME SUGAR, THE BODY WITHOUT A HEAD) and by the surrealism of it all — it pinpoints the hysterical sense of nightmare that permeates noir, and which usurps any sense of reality in Aldrich’s Spillane adaptation, KISS ME DEADLY, and boils to the surface in the work of David Lynch.

In fact, if The Girl Hunt ballet were somehow to be a new production, everyone would be talking about how it plunders Lynch’s movies for imagery.

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Syd Charisse plays dual roles, like Patricia Arquette in LOST HIGHWAY. “She came at me in sections. More curves than a scenic railway.”

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Giant fireball like in WILD AT HEART — also LOST HIGHWAY, and others. Lynch, on how he got the idea for the exploding shack in LOST HIGHWAY, which seems like a clear echo or the blazing beach house in KISS ME DEADLY: “We had finished at this location, and then I suddenly got this image in my mind, and I called the effects guy over and asked him what kind of really powerful explosives he had. And he said that he had A LOT, but that he could GET MORE.”

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The clue of the shiny rag — obviously a reference to Dennis Hopper’s titular sex-swatch in BLUE VELVET.

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Nothing in this sequence specifically relates to the red room in Twin Peaks… but the general effect evokes it in every way.

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The fight amid the mannequins — now it’s Kubrick and KILLER’S KISS that seems to be the target. The pre-perfectionist Kubrick rather screws that scene up with some egregious eyeline-crossing, causing each piece of store dummy to change direction as it’s hurled. Minnelli and Kidd and Astaire have no such trouble.

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Back to Lynch, with the Greek sculpture and b&w floor irresistibly evoking Twin Peaks again. The palette is different, but you wouldn’t want red curtains in a bathroom — not restful.

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Lynch’s sets don’t usually have this level of stylisation, but in THE GRANDMOTHER he painted all the rooms black and then chalked in the edges in white for an abstract, graphic effect (painting his cast’s skin chalk-white too). Here, the highlight is the minimally-rendered skyscraper, it’s lower storeys obscured by other buildings that aren’t rendered at all.

vlcsnap-2014-10-26-21h21m03s218It’s the cursed ring from FIRE WALK WITH ME!

I guess what this sequence has in common with Lynch and particularly the world of Twin Peaks (returning to out screens next year), apart from some imagery, is that both exaggerate the incomprehensible plotting of the pulp mystery into abstraction — these mysteries can never be solved because their terms aren’t clearly defined. Suspects, clues, leads and corpses multiply absurdly, and Comden & Green mock these conventions by amping them up while Lynch pushes them further in order to enjoy the mysterious as an end in itself.

As I tell my students, never solve an intriguing mystery with a boring explanation.

 

The Sunday Intertitle: Mystic Patsies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2014 by dcairns

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A surprisingly familiar character name appears in THE MYSTIC (1925) — at first I assumed it to be a coincidence, but since the director and co-writer is Tod Browning, future director of FREAKS and former circus somnambulist, it’s by no means unlikely that he was familiar with the case of John Merrick (in reality, Joseph), AKA The Elephant Man.

THE MYSTIC itself is relatively mild stuff, but it does deal with the circus, a fake medium, and con artistry, all things that Browning returned to obsessively throughout his career. The fake seances are put over with some panache, and it’s fun to see the trickery behind them, including a mild electrical current fed through the audience when they link hands, so that a signal can be given when the circuit is broken. A police inspector in the crowd circumvents this by getting his neighbours to link hands around him…

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Star Aileen Pringle was one of those on the yacht when Thomas Ince got shot, or did not get shot. Hearst doesn’t seem to have done her career iany particular favours. Edinburgh man David Torrence, brother of the more famous Ernest, brings his massive face to bear on the role of one of the supposed good guys, but respectable people in this movie can be as crooked as the gypsy confidence gang. Browning’s true sympathies are with the outsider-upstarts, which makes him an odd fit for MGM. His larcenous, grubby and nasty worldview might have been a better fit at Warners, and seems inimical to the oft-stated (family) values of Mayer’s empire, but it must be admitted that he succeeded anyway, bending the studio product all out of shape and taking the company to dark places it otherwise would have shunned. A bit like Tony Blair at Labour.

Kong Dies At The End

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2014 by dcairns

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A more accurate title for John Guillermin and Dino de Laurentiis’s KING KONG LIVES! would be KING KONG DIES AGAIN! since that is what happens. I feel no particular guilt at this fairly colossal spoiler, since KKL is not only very terrible, it’s also unusually boring for a terrible film. The action is repetitive — Kong rescues his mate at the end of Act I, then again at the end of Act II — and very generic. The characters are flat — so flat that James Cameron could recycle the hardass military guy in AVATAR, put him in 3D, and he was still so flat he could slide under doors like an envelope.

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“You’ve heard of the Green Berets? We’re the Raspberry Berets.”

Director John Guillermin does achieve one of the most memorable moments of his career — which includes some genuinely interesting, and well-made, films — during the sequence where Kong receives an artificial heart the size of a Fiat 500. Beginning with the hairy monarch lying comatose in a lab is not such an awful idea, if you have to begin such a venture at all (and clearly you don’t, so DON’T) — it allows Carlo Rambaldi to create another forty-foot mechanical ape, one which doesn’t have to do anything, but which human actors can interact with, thus convincing the audience that the gorilla really is as big as he’s supposed to be (a conviction shattered as soon as he gets up and starts ambling around miniature landscapes, but it was nice while it lasted). BUT — not content with staging a scene in which the $7, 000,000 artificial heart (this bionic Kong has to go one million better than Steve Austin) is winched over to the rather restive patient (should he really be tossing his head about like that if anesthetized?) — not content with generating bogus suspense by have the crane nearly break and drop the expensive, heavy organ straight through the slumbering monster’s abdomen — not content with showing us one of those inflating rubgy football things used in anesthesis, and having it be normal size when surely it ought to be a veritable Hindenberg — Guillermin throws in a shot taken from inside Kong, looking out of his thoracic cavity towards the assembled medical team and the descending cyber-pump.

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“A new low in taste,” was the phrase used gleefully by Martin Scorsese to describe the shot of a shark’s prey being consumed, taken from inside the shark’s mouth, in JAWS 3 — in 3D. But can that truly compete with a view from an ape’s thoracic cavity? I see now why Guillermin hasn’t made another film since — how to top this? Perhaps by filming out of Dracula’s arse as he breaks wind while stooping to bite a victim.

Fiona: “Why do they want to save Kong’s life after the mass destruction he caused in the last film?”

Me: “They like him.”

The more interesting aspects of the film’s deep badness are the points where it transcends the moronic and achieves solid stupidity. A stupidity you could walk about on; stupidity that could safely take a man’s weight.

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A kind of madness of stupidity, a mania of the dumb, seizes some filmmakers in the process of telling a genre story. The makers of this movie knew perfectly well that Kong, having fallen off the World Trade Center, couldn’t be alive, wouldn’t be helped by a robot heart, or by a blood transfusion from a giant female gorilla who doesn’t necessarily have the same blood type anyway, and that he wouldn’t have been able to walk even with such curative treatment after spending ten years in a coma. They knew that it isn’t full moon every night, yet it is in this movie, even though the action covers months. They also knew, one hopes, the simple biological fact that animals need to eat, yet “Lady Kong” goes on hunger strike when she’s locked in a missile silo by the army, and when Linda Hamilton asks “How long has she been like this?” she is told “Three or four months.” Yet not only does Lady Kong not die of starvation, she is able to give birth to a child at the end of it all.

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When the Son of Kong is eventually born, he is played by another actor in an ape suit, who is cradled in the animatronic Kong hand built by Carlo Rambaldi. So the Kongs, the fifty-foot ape couple, have a child who is only about six feet tall, if that, and who is as active and agile as an adult (and isn’t covered in icky amniotic fluid and blood.

Linda Hamilton sighs a lot and shakes her head to let us know she’s not happy with the way things are going, most of the time, and who can blame her?

Apart from the various stupidities, the film only really startles one awake when something particularly vile happens, as when Kong snaps a man in two; or some distressing attempt at humour is made, as when he pick a baseball cap from between his teeth after eating a man. And the whole Kong family still keep grinning, having learned nothing from the first go-round.

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Boldly, Lady Kong is played by a man, making this a rather forward-looking same-sex marriage, or at any rate civil partnership.

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