Archive for Alex Cox

The First Rule of Film Club…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 1, 2009 by dcairns

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…is we must all talk about Film Club.

Above, we see Derek Malcolm, one of Britain’s finest film critics, who presented the first series of The Film Club on BBC2 on Saturday nights in bygone days. My friend Colin McLaren calls him the Walking Talking Stephen Hawking, for reasons which I guess are slightly apparent. I once insinuated my way into a conversation between Malcolm and Bertrand Tavernier at the Edinburgh Film Festival. I say “into,” but mainly I just listened. Couldn’t keep up. Those guys are hardcore cinephiles.

Sadly, the next year, when Malcolm phoned up to make arrangements for his annual visit, he said “This is Derek Malcolm,” and the festival person taking the call said “Who?” — not being rude, I think they just wanted the name repeated so they could write it down, but of course the inference was there that they hadn’t heard of him — and Malcolm hung up and never came to Edinburgh again. Or so I’m told.

Despite all this shameless badmouthing, I’m fond of DM and  The Film Club was a great thing, double features every week of great cinema. In series two we had celebrity guest presenters, a different one every week. Linda Myles presented an Ophuls double bill, Richard Lester introduced LES RIPOUX and TOUCH OF EVIL (“I had nothing to do with choosing this double bill, so I feel happy to say that I think it is, in the words of that other great entertainer of our time, General Oliver North, ‘a really neat idea’”) and Alex Cox introduced something or other so well they gave him a permanent gig of his own, Moviedrome.

Our own Film Club is a more modest affair. On Monday I’ll blog about THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. Hopefully a fairly long, in-depth piece, but not anything special. The special bit is YOU — hopefully lots of you have seen the film now, or will have seen in by then, so on Monday and the following days we can really tear into the thing and have a jolly good discussion about it, even better than usual (and I am never less than delighted and impressed all to hell with the level of discussion here).

I think this might be a good thing to invite my students in on when term time starts up (a few of them do visit anyway) and the thing will hopefully be educational and fun for all of us. I’ll be delighted if this brings a few lurkers out of the woodwork, causes some occasional Shadowplayers to turn up again, and generally leads to some stimulating debate.

UPU2?

Posted in Comics, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2008 by dcairns

SOUTHLAND TALES felt like just the kind of film I should be defending here, before I watched it. I fairly loved DONNIE DARKO, Richard Kelly’s debut feature, and although DOMINO, which he scripted, gave me a bad vibe and I didn’t see it, SOUTHLAND sounded weird and funny and crammed with STUFF, which is often the way I like my movies. Plus it’s had a chequered history and a lot of critical savaging, much of it fairly crass.

TV’s Mark Kermode, in particular, should be struck off the critic’s list for mindlessly panning the thing on The Culture Show. “It’s terrible,” he said, “Really terrible. Look, here’s a clip. See how terrible it is?” A twenty second clip aired, and charming but light-weight co-presenter Lauren Laverne nodded. “I see what you mean.” Absolutely no critical analysis was offered whatsoever. And it’s a film which certainly warrants a bit of analysis.

The task is complicated by the fact that the version of SOUTHLAND TALES released is not the original director’s cut — Kelly was forced to alter his vision in order to get it screened at all, after the initial very bad response. What I mainly found myself wondering as I watched was what was part of the original conception and what had been added or subtracted to try and streamline the film and make it, what? Commercial, appealing, comprehensible?

The re-edit certainly fails on all three scores, at least on first viewing. The confusing narrative is surprising because there’s so much exposition — for the first third the movie is ALL EXPOSITION. Most of it is provided by a voice-over, and that’s part of the problem. Without a dramatic situation to engage us, the V.O. seems to wash over, bypassing comprehension. It’s telling us exactly what’s going on, but it’s hard to focus, in part because it’s impossible to see how the narrator, a character in the “story”, knows what he’s telling us. Since he’s not involved in most of the action, his narration blurs the story rather than clarifying it.

I was reminded of David Lynch’s DUNE, with it’s many internal monologues by many characters, seemingly pasted in out of a desperate urge to make us understand. My favourite is when the hero’s mum comes in a door, sees that her son is alive, looks relieved, and then her V.O. helpfully states, “My son — lives!” The redundancy is sort of comical and almost Lynchian. Kelly’s narration-stream isn’t as goofy as that, probably because it’s been added in an attempt to normalise a very weird film.

A Stand Up Guy

While Justin Timberlake delivers the verbal afterhthoughts with more gusto than Harrison Ford did in BLADE RUNNER, the result is more like the plot-summary that comes towards the end of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. As Orson Welles wanders the Crazy House, he muses on What Has Gone Before, and we pretty much miss everything he’s saying because it has nothing much to do with the imagery, which is far more interesting. Only when the words “…and I was the fall guy!” land on the image of Welles falling over are we able to register what’s being said at all. It’s not Welles’ fault, it’s the bone-heads at Columbia who forced him to add explanations at inapposite moments, just as R. Kelly has had to do.

Once the SOUTHLAND V.O. thins out and the plot, whatever it is, actually gets in motion, it starts to feel like we’re getting somewhere. Generally the bits with music feel like a movie, rather than a tape-slide presentation or a very long “Previously on Lost” montage, and I started to feel like the film could be an enjoyable experience even without my fully understanding it. I like lots of films I don’t understand. As the proceedings got more fun, I started to yearn for the original version. All the attempts at clarification seemed to make for a more boring experience.

The casting is the high point for me. I always rejoice in the gurning visage of Wallace Shawn, and it was cool to see POLTERGEIST’s Zelda Rubinstein, still looking like she’s been compressed in a car crusher. Bai Ling attempts to inject sultriness into every line reading or movement, Sarah Michelle Gellar does some good porn star acting, the Rock makes his eyes go beady and does weird nervous finger movements, and Justin Timberlake is rather good. Miranda Richardson seems to have been cast for her face rather than her acting, which is quaint as she’s a magnificent actress, one of the real power-houses. But since her costume screams “Villainess!” and that’s all her character is, she really has very little she can add.

The levitating ice-cream van at the end made me think of the flying car in Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, and it seemed clear at that point that the earlier visionary punk sci-fi masterpiece (which anticipates everything from THE X FILES to Grant Morrison’s comic book The Invisibles) was a definite influence. Interestingly, Repo Man now has a comic book sequel, just like SOUTHLAND TALES.

I also thought of the movie Guido’s making in Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF. “Do you like movies in which nothing happens?” The idea of a film which tries to include EVERYTHING is a perversely appealing one, even if it’s doomed to fail. In a way, all films fail — they always disappoint their makers. Kelly seems to have gone into this one believing he might never be given another job, so he had to make this film stand in for an entire filmography. Ironically, it’s such a high-profile catastrophe he’s almost certain to be offered more work by the kind of producers who like to present themselves as taming unruly talents.

“The name’s Rock. Rock Rock.”

Goblin March Sea Dream

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

I forget which filmmaker it was (maybe Lester?) who, after he retired, was awoken one night from a horrible dream. (No, I just this instant remembered — it was William Wyler.) Mrs. Director, lying alongside, asked what was the matter. “Oh, I just had the most terrible dream. I dreamed I was directing a picture.”

Punk Elephants on Parade

I had that this morning, in my last hour of sleep. Fiona had gotten up and gone to work, I had fallen asleep again, and I dreamed I was on a beach, directing an epic based on something loosely derived from Tolkein. Probably it was “inspired” by a couple of pages from The Silmarilion (wait and see, once they’ve finished gargantuanizing The Hobbit, this WILL happen).

I had an army of orcs at my disposal, and they were engaged in a forced march to the accompaniment of drum-beats and a Volga Boatmen type choral arrangement, on playback. There were also boats in the sea, a big galleon and some smaller model ships behind it. The FX team showed me a large-ish model ship they had available, which might bulk out the fleet usefully: “It’s actually the Titanic,” they explained apologetically, “but if you put it far back enough…” I shrugged, “Sure. What the hell.”

And as the orcs slogged past (“Too slow,” argued the producer) I realised I didn’t even know where they were supposed to be going. I looked around for my 1st A.D., eventually found her, asked for a copy of the script. She handed me a folder full of CRAP, strange schematics and incomprehensible call sheets, plus a few thin pages of screenplay scattered amongst the bumf. When I looked up from this, none the wiser, I found a vast PETROL STATION had been erected.

“Isn’t it great?” asked the producer. I spluttered and fizzed incoherently. “Not for THIS scene, I know,” he explains. “For that LATER scene. I just wanted to show you. I can have it all taken away in five minutes.”

The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters

Awoke feeling incredibly groggy and reflecting on the irony that filmmaking is nothing but stress while you’re doing it, and I spend all my time wishing I was doing it. And I don’t particularly LIKE stress, mind you.

“Ordinary people spend their life avoiding tense situations. A repo man spends his life getting into tense situations.” ~ REPO MAN, Alex Cox.

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