Archive for the Television Category

Benshi in my Ear

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2014 by dcairns

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The sensation of having an Italian lady piped into my ear while I watch a film was entirely unknown to me a week ago. Now it’s second nature. I’m slightly discomfited when she’s NOT there. I would welcome her ministrations even when watching a film in English (OKLAHOMA! on the big screen — digitally restored — the only  50 30 fps DCP in the world? – yum! But surely an Italianate female voice repeating the lyrics after Duncan Gordon McRae would enhance it).

We nearly had a simultaneous audio translation in Cannes once, but arrived at the gala moments too late, had to wait for the cast and crew to pose for snaps on the steps, then got let in after the movie had started. A tinny voice could dimly be heard from the arm of my chair, but I had no technical means to connect the arm of my chair to my head. So THE IDIOTS was experienced untranslated, and seemed quite enjoyable. It wasn’t until I saw it with subtitles that I realised I hated it.

My first visit from the ear-fairy was with THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (aka LES MYSTERES DE NEW YORK, an even better title). They ran two episodes that had been preserved in Belgium, with French and Dutch intertitles. I came to imagine Pearl White, the star, as a hesitant Italian, and enjoyed the improvisatory nature of her performance. Directed George Seitz and Louis Gasnier (see elsewhere on Shadowplay) for Pathe a hundred years ago, this follow-up to THE PERILS OF PAULINE was great entertainment. The whole serial survives, but in hideous dupes from 28mm, so this was a unique event — even Kevin Brownlow had never seen it look like this. (A bit chipped off as it passed through the projector, and for a full minute stayed stuck to the image, a fragment of celluloid, sprocket-holes and all, pasted over the action. Never seen that before.) Yes, I introduced myself to Kevin Brownlow, who pronounced NATAN “terrific.” My chest swelled as if an alien was trying to get out.

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“You are responsible for my becoming a filmmaker.”

“You must be broke.”

“I am!”

“Join the club!”

The screening was also significant for me because THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE is one of the few films left illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. Regular readers will be aware of my quest to see every film depicted in that tome, a quest entitled See Reptilicus and Die. I saw REPTILICUS, I didn’t die, and now I only have a few left.

Mr. Brownlow pointed out that a very young Creighton Hale appears in THE E OF E. I told him that Professor Joseph Slade, one of the antagonists in our film NATAN, wrote me that he believes, not only that Bernard Natan had sex with a duck onscreen, but, along with Kenneth Anger, that Creighton Hale had sex with a goat in a twenties porno, a rumour systematically discredited here.

KB: “You know someone asked Kenneth Anger how he did his research, and he replied, ‘Mental telepathy, mainly.’”

Denis Gifford’s book reproduces an image of a Jekyll-Hyde transformation. The episodes we saw included The Vampire, in which masked, hunchbacked villain The Clutching Hand attempts to drain Elaine of blood to transfuse into one of his accomplices. Though Elaine spent most of her time unconscious and getting rescued, she did start that episode by plugging said accomplice three times as he appeared at her bedroom window (the program notes observed that many of the serial’s dramatic situations implied some thinly-veiled sexual threat, and that the films were particularly successful with female audiences — back when thiny v’d sexual t. was just about the only kind of acceptable sex). The other episode had Elaine revived from a death-like trance (accompanist Stephen Horne switched to accordion to suggest lung-wheeze). All these jumbled horror elements (see poster above) suggest the serial was the Penny Dreadful of its day — but of course John Logan’s series and Seitz/Gasnier’s serial both take nineteenth-century sensational literature as their starting point.

Sleepwalkies

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

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I confess to being underwhelmed by Hannibal (TV version) despite hearing rave reports. One Facebook admirer diagnosed the show’s problem as “the FBI is stupid and everyone’s a serial killer,” which is about right. The FBI part is a bigger problem. I’m at episode 11. There’s a character who was missing for several years, presumed dead. Then that character’s severed arm turns up (it’s that kind of show). Nobody is surprised that the arm is apparently still fresh, nobody thinks to check if it has been frozen, nobody speculates that the arm’s owner might still be alive. I’m betting that the arm’s owner is still alive, but I’ll be annoyed either way.

But apart from shoddy thinking — a show about an FBI agent who can think like a serial killer, whose writers can’t even think like an FBI agent — the show’s problems are hard to diagnose. Fiona complains of a lack of humour, and while it’s true that for a series with one of The Kids in the Hall playing a pathologist and Eddie Izzard as a murderer, it isn’t very funny,but  there are dashes here and there. It obviously owes a debt to The X Files, which borrowed the typed-on place name subtitles from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (and Hannibal borrows Gillian Anderson), but X Files, even outside of the remarkable episodes written by Darin Morgan, had a streak of dry wit just below the surface.

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Hugh Dancy is a more vulnerable Will Graham that William Petersen was in MANHUNTER, despite not being tiny and wee with bandy legs. Mads Mikkelsen is a very good Lecter — while Brian Cox played it casual, which was very effective (he spoke of Michael Mann cutting different takes together so that the character’s intensity fluctuated in an unpredictable way), Mikkelsen underplays to the point of coma, his stillness adding creep factor — if the show could afford to slow down, he would really register.

Despite the oceans of gore, we’re not scared — we’re tired of serial killers and their art installations. When they graduated from making corpses into angels with their flayed backs spread out as wings, to assembling a giant totem pole of body parts  on a deserted beach, Fiona’s reaction was hilarity, which I don’t think tells you something scary about her, though I may be biased.

Hannibal himself reminds me irrestistibly of the guy from Electric Six.

One thing that really charmed me, however, was the scene where Hugh/Will goes sleepwalking, and one of his adopted stray dogs tags along. Sleepwalkies! It’s a good idea. I liked owning a dog, but I got tired of standing in the rain waiting for it to poop. You never met charming girls and got your leashes tangled (another area in which the movies lied to me). But if you could walk them in your sleep… and if your dog was trained as a guide dog so it could keep you out of the path of traffic…

Nice that a show in which the serial killers outnumber the non-serial-killers should offer such a quaint and useful lifestyle tip.

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The scariest thing on Hannibal is this silent, smiling Lilliputian throng, advertising America’s Got Talent. The latest in unobtrusive advertising.

 

Jazz Police

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2014 by dcairns

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I saw John Cassavetes’ GLORIA when I was a teenager, at the school film society (a formative influence — do such things exist anymore?) and didn’t know if I liked it or not. And then I didn’t really see any Cassavetes until… now, basically, when a job came up that required me to become instantly expert, at least in the early phase of his career. So I plunged in, optimistically.

One of the fascinating things about JC is the split between SHADOWS (consciously disjointed improv that retroactively explains all the bits in MEAN STREETS that don’t quite work — in SHADOWS, the freeform stuff knows what it’s doing) and his TV work, notably Johnny Staccato, in which the reptilian demiurge plays a kind of jazz detective, pianist turned P.I.

Staccato tackles the cases too cool for the ordinary police.

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Muscle: Cravat.

The first episode we ran was enjoyably ludicrous: Elmer Bernstein’s bombastic score turned everything into a Big Moment, even if it’s just JC loping across a lounge or standing on the subway. Nick Cravat played the heavy (only opposite a lead as short as Cassavetes — sure, he looks lanky, but he’s basically a tall man scaled down to one-third size — could the pint-sized tumbler serve as suitable menace) and there’s a moment when J-Cass turns on the charm at a sexy secretary which is simply indescribable — a cringe-inducing irruption of hepcat suavity less likely to make the poor girl swoon with desire than to carry out an instant pre-emptive hysterectomy on herself using her eyelash crimper.

The whole thing basically made me suddenly understand how accurate a parody of TV tropes Police Squad! was. It’s just that they were mocking TV shows before my time. (Seems like nobody has yet done a spot-on pastiche of the likes of Petrocelli or Quincy, probably because it would be too dull.)

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Muso: McGraw.

BUT — when Cassavetes slides into the director’s chair, there’s an upsurge in quality and, dare I say it, conviction — there are guest stars such as Charles McGraw (OK, improbably cast as a crooner — I can picture albums entitled McGraw Snarls The Blues, With A Mellow Growl, and Songs for Gravelly Lovers) and Elisha Cook Jnr — as a hapless victim signally ignored in the obligatory happy ending. And we get members of what would soon be the Cassavetes stock company — indeed, the show’s producer is Everett Chambers, who played a loathsome agent in TOO LATE BLUES.

It’s still ridiculous in places, but very entertaining, and the noir approach gives vent to J.C.’s expressionist tendencies, which found unexpected outlets in his movies. The most overwhelming moment came when J-Cass played a scene with a nubile Martin Landau.

Me: “This is too much! You can’t have two Picasso lizards in one scene!”

Fiona: “The world won’t come to an end just because Cassavetes and Landau appear onscreen together.”

Yet, twenty seconds later ~

Fiona: “The world is coming to an end!”

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