Archive for the MUSIC Category

Hardcore Stenography

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2014 by dcairns

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So, INVESTIGATING SEX — I had a hard time getting to see this. I heard about it when it was new, ie before it failed to come out, from Emily Bruni, who plays the wife of Alan Cumming and the lover of Til Schweiger in it, and she spoke very warmly of writer/director Alan Rudolph, whom I love (usually). Not long after, I shared a car with Alan Cumming, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him much of anything as he was on the phone most of the time. He seemed nice, but very very busy.

Meanwhile, years passed, and the film never got a UK distributor (despite featuring Dermot Mulroney, Julie Delpy, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld…) and didn’t play any festivals near me.

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Finally I obtained a copy, which proved to be dubbed into Greek, then another copy in English and subtitled in Portuguese, and then the film turned up on YouTube in its entirety, and I quite simply failed to watch it.

But now I have, and it joins the pile of really good Rudolphs, funny and sweet and romantic and just a little strange. At the mansion of an eccentric millionaire (Nolte), a group of (initially all male) artists, writers, filmmakers gather to recount their observations and experiences of sex. It’s 1929, so dressing a couple of lady stenographers in sexy black uniforms and employing them as combination secretaries/muses seems cool. The known factors (Campbell, who never previously seemed able to act, and Tunney, whom I don’t recall well enough from THE CRAFT because that had Fairuza Balk in it) are excellent, but the film also has up-and-comers Terrence Howard and Til Schweiger and Jeremy Davies — and the aforementioned Bruni, whose face has all these unexpected swoops and arches, like a wondrous funhouse Fonda, and John Light, neither of whom has caught on as they should (though they both work regularly, which is the main thing). Both have the kind of faces that make you lean forward, and maybe even cock your head sideways sometimes, which I regard as a good thing.

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Funny how Rudolph’s ensembles — the main thing he shares with his mentor Mr. Altman, an exec producer here, is a desire to let the supporting players nose ahead of the leads — never really attracted a big audience. They’re always intriguing mixtures, like a great party you wish you could throw. Consider –

Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer, Joe Morton, Divine…

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Campbell Scott, Matthew Broderick, Peter Gallagher, Wallace Shawn, Lili Taylor…

The film doesn’t have a Mark Isham score, normally an essential trait of any Rudolph joint, nor does it have songs per se, but Ulf Skogsbergh’s slightly eerie music — woven around the idea of the succubus that tantalises Mulroney’s character — is a standout. Why hasn’t he done anything else in movies? Google suggests he’s a photographer, unless there are two Ulfs.

Highlight: Nolte’s confession of a love affair with a donkey.

Retrospective, anyone? Or an Eclipse box set?

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No Excuse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2014 by dcairns

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In the first film I directed, I was lucky to have a Distinguished Thespian, from whom I learned crucial stuff (“Never ask for effects, because if you do, that’s all you’ll get”). And I heard some good stories, though alas I missed a lot of them while setting up shots. I would walk in to fetch our star and catch him in the middle of a sentence like “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” One time I caught the line, “Of course the best films to be in, for drugs, were the Disney films.” Some surprised looks. “Because you got these cool Californian guys coming over…”

But no chemical intoxicant can really excuse this — a broken-down toy robot with the voice of Slim Pickens. I like Slim Pickens, but make him play a cute robot with sympathetic cartoon eyes and you really are thumbing my vomit button very hard indeed. Stuff like this makes you actually respect how restrained George Lucas was — his cute robot was essentially a fat bullet with legs. No anthropomorphism at all, and no voice. The audience does the humanizing.

If rampant hallucinogen abuse can’t excuse the film’s robots (Roddy McDowell voices the other one, FFS), it may at least explain the deeply bananas ending, probably the most batshit crazy ending to a kids film ever — even more disorienting than TIME BANDITS. As the heroes plunge into the titular singularity, TV director Gary Nelson spins his cast in a tumbrel, replays their dialogue at them through an echo chamber, dilates them with an optical printer and otherwise confuses the young audience, Maximilian Schell floats by in dreadlocks as if attempting a very special James Bond title sequence, seemingly mates with his hulking Gort-substitute robot henchman, then finds himself INSIDE the robot looking out, then he’s on a papier-mache promontory in heavy metal Hell — the weirdness is so extreme it even wakes composer John Barry from his movie-long slumber to offer up some swooning arpeggios, as he does.

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And then it’s Heaven, which is of course far more skeletally imagined, and then there’s more normal outer space and the cast look very confused and then the movie kind of stops.

Obviously they were thinking of 2001, and obviously they weren’t able to handle the visual abstraction and so needed to show some kind of solid imagery. And their ideas were thoroughly confused. I think Professor Hawking would refute their depiction of an event horizon.

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It couldn’t happen now, and it shouldn’t have happened then. But, after a movie that just recycles 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in space with a sticky STAR WARS paste slathered over everything, an ending so batshit crazy has to be welcomed. They tried something, finally.

 

It’s Chinatown

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2014 by dcairns

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After watching THE WILD AFFAIR, in which Nancy Kwan is delightful, Fiona wanted more, so we ran THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG (some nice elaborate Richard Quine long takes) and then FLOWER DRUM SONG.

FLOWER DRUM SONG is an interesting period piece — some of the DVD extras consider the ways in which the passage of time has changed it from a rather forward-thinking piece, in the days when the very act of making a musical about Chinese-Americans was a radical and positive thing, to a slightly embarrassing hangover from an earlier age. But nobody quite gets to the nub of it, I think.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical is entertaining and funny, and pleasingly presents its Chinese and Chinese-Americans as being just regular folks, with a few different customs but with all the same drives and qualities as anyone you might meet in a movie about white folks, which is fine. It’s just that a lot of the jokes are based around producing Asian versions of conventional situations or dialogue — so someone talks of being “left with egg foo yung on his face,” which isn’t a real expression, just a silly version of an American expression with a bit of cod Chinese culture tacked on as a laugh. It might or might be amusing, but it’s certainly inauthentic, and there’s a point at which the inauthentic becomes slightly racist.

Any time you can’t be bothered to get the details right, you’re showing a lack of respect. In Fellini’s CITY OF WOMEN, we are told that all the feminist statements are based on actual proclamations by feminist thinkers. If this is true (always highly doubtful with Fellini) then the filmmaker would be showing a kind of respect to the people he is satirising — he lets them condemn themselves as absurd out of their own mouths. He plays fair. But in HORSE FEATHERS, not only is Groucho’s anatomy class complete gibberish, the serious class he interrupts is equally nonsensical, basically just a stream of long words most of which have nothing to do with the ostensible subject. In this way, the writers show themselves to be above the subject, disinterested in accuracy, and ally themselves with the Marxes’ anti-intellectual side (Harpo is seen gleefully shoveling books into a roaring fire, in hindsight a disturbing image for 1933).

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The racism in FLOWER DRUM SONG is super-mild, it doesn’t mean to offend, and it doesn’t even mean to be disrespectful. It’s just levity, but not quite the right kind for us today. I’m not even sure if it would offend anyone, but it does embarrass.

Still, there are great pleasures, some of them quite odd. Kwan is a knockout, and though she couldn’t do her own singing. she could certainly dance. James Shigeta has a fine speaking voice and he does seem to be doing his own vocals, but he evidently couldn’t dance to save his life, so he’s doubled in the big dream ballet number. For part of this he wears what looks to me like a Japanese mask (the film also blurs Chinese and Japanese cultures and casting), but for part of it he’s just blatantly replaced by another performer. The shot is head-to-toe wide to show the dancing properly, but it’s not like you can’t notice it’s not him anymore: the new guy doesn’t look anything like Shigeta. Sometimes, when faced with a continuity problem with a plant pot or cigarette or glass of wine, a director will say, “Well, if the audience is looking at THAT, we’ve lost them anyway.” But you can’t use that argument when the continuity problem consists of your leading man being suddenly replaced by someone else. When Balthazar Getty replaces Bill Pullman in LOST HIGHWAY, we’re supposed to notice. One does hope that Henry Koster, the director in this instance, was not trusting to the old dictum that “they all look alike.”

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At one point in the film, a Chinese character actually says, “They all look alike,” referring to white folks, which I guess is intended as a kind of satire, but is actually sort of true — we often find it harder to tell apart people of different races from themselves, since what we notice first are the “racial signifiers” of the other. The problem is solved by spending time around people of different races.

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It’s not a problem one could ever have with Jack Soo (a Japanese-American who changed his name to a Chinese one in order to get a role in the Broadway production), though. He’s incredibly distinctive, though, and a lovely presence — he talks like Robert Mitchum, only even more hep, and looks like Brundlefly. I wish he was in more movies.

 

 

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