Archive for the Television Category

Cars

Posted in FILM, Sport, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by dcairns

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As a kid I remember seeing some clip from the documentary show Whicker’s World — I can’t remember in what context — and I was shocked — SHOCKED! — to see the late James Garner of Rockford Files fame being aggressive on a film set. Years later I watch John Frankenheimer’s GRAND PRIX and then the extra feature documentary on the disc and there’s the same clip, and Garner’s disgruntlitude is entirely understandable — he’s just spent half an hour freezing his ass off in the sea while a Monacan shopkeeper holds the production to ransom to get more money for the inconvenience of the street being closed.

Nevertheless, I understand why Garner’s demeanour discomfited me so — I think it was my first real clue that movie and TV personalities weren’t always the same in real life as onscreen. Nobody has a bad word to say about Garner, of course, and like I say, what the clip shows is that he was a three-dimensional human being with an occasional, justifiable temper. He wasn’t Jim Rockford, whose response to the most diabolical situations was to become querulously reasonable. Then he’d leave the scene of the crime undisturbed and make an anonymous tip-off call to the cops.

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GRAND PRIX is an impressive logistical feat, and not such an impressive film — the classic bloated Sunday teatime movie of my childhood in front of the box. Lots of drab scenes — the Yves Montand/Eva Marie Saint romance was especially turgid — the Garner/Jessica Walter one is pretty interesting by comparison, at least in places — they’re attracted but don’t actually like one another very much. Toshiro Mifune is wasted in the English language.

The action is super-impressive though, and Saul Bass’s montages are often beautiful. Frankenheimer created a sort of sizzle reel out of his early Monte Carlo footage and got Enzo Ferrari onboard with that. You can see why.

Also — Frankenheimer’s camera car was driven by champion Phil Hill, who would’ve been  the main character in David Cronenberg’s Formula One movie RED CARS if that had ever gotten off the ground. Everyone in the doc reckons that 1966, when JF made his movie, was the last time such a film could’ve been made, because after that the sponsorship interests plus the whole event got too big. Ron Howard’s recent movie solves that with CGI. But the main thing the Frankenheimer movie has in its favour is our knowledge that everything we see is physically real. An amazing helicopter shot that snakes along with the winding street below as the ant-like racers speed along would become essentially meaningless if animated. There’s a kind of unwritten law about what kind of things are worth faking. It would be interesting to try to work out what the rules are…

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Frankenheimer, interviewed by Alan Whicker in the sixties and by the doc-makers in the early noughties, is curiously attractive — volcanic levels of ebullience and a simmering fury that ripples the surface of even the calmest conversation. The sheer speed of his responses suggests that Jerry Lewis quality of being about to snap your head off at any moment. And yet, like I say, somehow appealing. A macho dinosaur.

UK: Grand Prix (1966) – Official Warner Blu-Line HD Region B Bluray (2.2:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)

US: Grand Prix (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Home Theater

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 5, 2014 by dcairns

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The Knick, created by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, is a ten-part TV show which may be the best thing Steven Soderbergh has ever done. Since I haven’t always liked Soderbergh’s films, this may seem like faint praise, but on the other hand I like a bunch of them plenty, and really this show would stand out as a high point on anybody’s filmography. It can’t be because Soderbergh is suddenly allowed greater freedom by TV, even though he complained about the way film directors were being treated (it’s probably true that directors are afforded less respect today, are regarded as “presumptively wrong” during any discussion — but it could be that it’s Soderbergh’s status that had fallen) — but Soderbergh chose his own projects, sometimes wrote and produced them, always photographed and edited them, and would seem to have a certain amount of clout. Nor can it really be that the lack of control in TV, traditionally a writer’s medium, is constraining Soderbergh in a favourable way. It just feels like he has an incredibly good set of scripts and has risen to the challenge.

As I hinted when discussing Parade’s End, period dramas on TV have started trying to seem modern and feisty and to throw off the musty mantle of “quality” and “classic” — in the UK, this has mainly resulted in bizarre and inappropriate directorial choices which seem overly self-conscious and artificial (the blatant swiping from JULES ET JIM in Michael Winterbottom’s JUDE can serve as a warning here). Soderbergh gives us a 1900 New York with electronic music (Cliff Martinez), hand-held camera and wide lenses, freeze frames and a shots taken with the camera strapped to the actor (a very effective drunken brawl in ep. 3) and all manner of modernistic flourishes, and it all feels JUST RIGHT. (However ultimately successful his films, Soderbergh’s stylistic choices have always been smart, and only in THE GOOD GERMAN did he prove not equal to achieving them — turns out the b&w classic Hollywood aesthetic is about the hardest trick there is).

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Partly the unusual visuals work because they are supported by really impressive visual detail in the set design and costumes, and also in the script, which shows all the evidence of a tone of research not only performed but digested and then transfigured into solid drama. So we have a living, breathing world full of unpredictable and unfamiliar-but-credible characters, and so almost any filming choice would work — Soderbergh’s just happens to be interesting.

I can illustrate this idea — that a credible world trumps any stylistic choice — using the words of Jim Sheridan (as I recall them). The MY LEFT FOOT guy is one of the most entertaining raconteurs in cinema, at least in small doses, and he said, approximately: “The first question a novice director wants to answer is ‘Where do I put the camera?’ which is dead wrong, because your job is to create a moment of emotional truth, and if you do that right, it doesn’t matter where you put the camera. You might not even need a camera.”

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Like all the Great Truths, this is only true sometimes, but Sheridan was able to neatly illustrate the most boggling [art of his assertion by pointing to the documentary CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, in which a crucial, emotionally renching scene occurs after the camcorder has been knocked to the ground — the entire scene is delivered as audio only, and it’s devastating.

Of course, one of the things I like about films is when a composition or a movement or a cut makes visible an underlying truth — you can see it in the frame above, snatched almost at random from the first episode.

Anyway, The Knick was shot with a camera, for which we can be grateful — many medical atrocities are thus presented in graphic detail, but also:

Matt Frewer sterilising his beard; André Holland teaching a laundress to sew chicken skin; a beautiful girl with no nose; a novelty striptease entitled “The Busy Flea”; the wonders of cocaine.

Kidstuff

Posted in Comics, FILM, Painting, Television with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2014 by dcairns

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Click to enlarge. And then it all happens.

I was always dimly aware of The Kin-Der Kids, in a collected volume of newspaper cartoons by Lyonel Feininger, lurking on a shelf in Edinburgh College of Art library, but something had kept me from taking it out. Now I realize it was probably the unreadable text — Feininger, like his near-contemporary Winsor McCay, believed in drawing the artwork and speech balloons first, before writing the dialogue, and then would cram whatever he had to say into the available space (McKay sometimes goes the opposite way, finding his balloon to capacious for the plotline, he’ll bung in random cries of “Oh!” until the bubble is snugly used up) — also, the original broadsheet-sized hugeness has been shrunk to half its original scale, meaning that I had to dig out a green magnifying glass I found in the back yard to read it (I can’t think what I did with the nice steel magnifier I bought for M. Natan to use in the documentary “reconstructions” of NATAN).

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Anyway, it’s worth it. The surreal adventures of Daniel Webster (a child with a stovepipe hat and male-pattern baldness), Piemouth, Strenuous Teddy and Little Japansky (a clockwork Japanese boy of unexplained origin) are worth anybody’s time. And not much time is required — the strip was a flopperoo and was cancelled in short order, leaving behind a scant few pages that promised some kind of long-form continuing madness, more eccentric even than Little Nemo and Popeye and the other, later greats. It couldn’t last, but the bold experiment of putting a Bauhaus painter in charge of a piece of mainstream entertainment at least left us with 29 pages of madness (plus another 18 of Wee Willie Winkie’s World.)

A modern-day follower of Feininger’s approach seems to me to be Tony Millionaire, whose Maakies strip, dealing with the adventures of an alcoholic crow and a sock puppet monkey, at sea, have a similar cockamamie picaresque rambunctiousness. There was a TV show which you can watch. It, too, was cancelled. In fact, in its pilot episode, a harpooned sea monster jets blood from its blowhole/s, an image incredibly present in The Kin-Der Kids (children’s entertainment was tougher then). Feininger, apparently sensing that having anthropomorphic animals with their own speech balloons might be problematic when it’s time for them to be killed and eaten, resolves the tonal difficulty by giving his sea creatures crap dialogue, such as, “Who would have thunk it” (no question mark, making it even lamer) and “Drat it all! This is one on me” — the implication being that they are not so much living thinking sentient characters like Daniel Webster and (debatably) Piemouth, as pasteboard caricatures jerked into the simulacrum of life by a quill-wielding kraut.

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To give you some idea of Feininger’s eccentricity, here is his dramatis personae, in which he sees fit to include the Kin-Der family bathtub — which never appears again.

 

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