Archive for Alexander Mackendrick

Play

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by dcairns

morgans-creek

I finally decided to get myself a copy of Play-Making, a Manual of Craftsmanship by William Archer — the book Preston Sturges read when he was laid up with appendicitis and which turned him into a creator of Broadway hits the moment he’d devoured the last page. Maybe it’ll do the same for me! (I think he also read Brander Matthews’ guide to writing plays too — and this book is dedicated to BM.)

It’s not hard to see why Sturges would respond to this text — it has a high-flown style which occasionally plunges into comedy to make a point, so that it not only expresses the dramatic principles which the great filmmaker would exploit, but it also occasionally touches on the tone he would use. You can see this in the following passage, I think. Like today’s better screenwriting manuals. Archer begins by establishing the pitfalls of any guide to the craft ~

“There is thus a fine opening for pedantry on the one side and quackery on the other, to rush in. The pedant, in this context, is he who constructs a set of rules from metaphysical or psychological first principles, and professes to bring down a dramatic decalogue from the Sinai of some lecture-room in the University of Weissnichtwo. The quack, on the other hand, is he who generalizes from the worst practices of the most vulgar theatrical journeymen, and has no higher ambition than to interpret the oracles of the box-office. If he succeeded in so doing, his function would not be wholly despicable; but as he is generally devoid of insight, and as, moreover, the oracles of the box-office vary from season to season, if not from month to month, his lucubrations are about as valuable as those of Zadkiel and Old Moore.”

Lucubrations!

One could be mean and say that Robert McKee has in some ways gone beyond anything Archer dreamt of by combining pedantry with quackery (do you prefer the term pedackery or quackantry to describe this hybrid approach?).

I was startled by how familiar was Archer’s definition of drama (“Any representation of imaginary personages which is capable of interesting an average audience in a theater”) — and then I realized that all the insights of Chapter III of Playmaking had been condensed into Chapter 12 of Alexander Mackendrick’s On Film-Making. At least he gives credit, though — the chapter is called William Archer Revisited.

The Whiteness

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by dcairns

TelluridePhil

The author meets the auteur: Philip Kaufman and a dazed man in a borrowed hat.

One of the results of meeting Philip Kaufman in Telluride (above) was the realization that, despite loving a number of his films (I have literally no idea how many times I saw THE RIGHT STUFF in the eighties, at the cinema and on VHS) there were big holes in my knowledge of his career. One movie he mentioned as being a little neglected was THE WHITE DAWN (1974), which I’d heard of but never seen.

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It proves to be an excellent film, and I’m not just saying that because Mr. Kaufman was so nice (if I didn’t like this one, I’d find something else to talk about). It’s really one of the best films about intercultural failure of communication, standing comparison with MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE, which it’s arguably better than because it doesn’t have David Bowie in a school uniform. Instead it has Timothy Bottoms, Warren Oates and Louis Gossett, Jnr, a near-unbeatable trio of axioms of 1970s American cinema, acting against a genuine selection of non-professional actors gathered from a single Inuit tribe.

The story, based on James Houston’s novel in turn based on true incidents, deals with three whalers stranded in the arctic who are taken in by an Inuit tribe. The initially friendly approach of the natives ultimately takes a tragic turn as the interlopers fail to fit in, contribute, or understand the people they’ve become dependent on. While the reliably surly Oates is an obvious walking trouble-spot, Bottoms and Gossett’s response to the apparent free love offered by the community also seems likely to cause problems, with the sensitive young Bottoms becoming enamoured and possessive of one young woman (Pilitak).

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The blend of languages and acting styles works remarkably well. “The trouble with non-professionals is they’re not professional enough. And the trouble with professionals is they’re too professional.” ~ Milos Forman. “When you put a non-professional and a professional together the effect is immediately to show up the artificiality of the professional.” ~ Alexander Mackendrick. And the movie manages to create sympathy for both sides — its theme has never been more timely, and it’s regrettable that the movie isn’t easier to see (according to its director, no good 35mm print of this handsome film, shot by Michael Chapman, exists anywhere in the world).

If everyone saw it and absorbed its theme, it could actually save us.

I have THE GREAT MINNESOTA NORTHFIELD RAID lined up next.

My Kaufman essay can be bought as a bonus along with: Invasion of the Body Snatchers [Blu-ray]

White Dawn

The Greengrocer’s Apostrophe

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2013 by dcairns

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From Robert Siodmak’s CRISS CROSS. “Employee’s only.” No wonder their armoured car gets robbed, they can’t even use basic English grammar.

Bunch of idiot’s.

Showed this one to students and was struck by how it really wants to be a portrait of a terrible love affair (trust is gone) and has to force itself to be a crime movie. Fortunately, the crime movie it’s forcing itself to be is a damned good one, even if the crime masterminded by dopey hero Burt Lancaster is a magnificently dumb piece of self-destruct planning. I mean, it doesn’t so much carry the seeds of its own destruction as the whole damn tree. Which is itself in bud.

The sub-sub-genre of armoured car robbery movies deserves a pamphlet of its own, from the shambolic overthinking of Lancaster’s scheme and its Soderbergh remake, THE UNDERNEATH, to the factual comedy of THE BRINK’S JOB (note the correct apostrophe) to Richard Fleischer’s self-explanatory ARMORED CAR ROBBERY and climaxing with the Mackendrick-Rose-Ealing-Guinness THE LADYKILLERS.

Philip Kemp’s Mackendrick bio, Lethal Innocence, has a good story about that heist. Mackendrick had a tendency to go all-out for authenticity in small matters, which he later identified as a diversionary measure to take his mind off the more intractable problems of the narrative at hand. Anyhow, in quest of realism he consulted the Metropolitan Police, appraising them of his fictional caper and asking if such a scheme could possibly work.

The detective took a long breath. “I’m very glad you decided to become a filmmaker, Mr Mackendrick. It would work only too well.”

The Best Of Ealing Collection [DVD]
Criss Cross (1949) Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Compatible DVD. Starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo

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