Archive for Cronenberg

Duet for harpsichord and bongos

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2009 by dcairns

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When graphic designers go odd…

So, a puzzled Keir Dullea, surrounded by antique-style furniture, turns around and sees himself as an old man. What film are we watching?

Award yourself 10 points if you answered “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY”, and eleventy million points if you added “or DESADE.” Since DESADE is a film about a man trapped in an infinite time loop, the sense of deja vu Dullea must have experienced from his work as astronaut Dave Bowman may have helped him get into character.

Donatien Alphonse, Marquis de Sade, embodied by Dullea, is on his death bed, adrift in visions from his past life (it doesn’t so much flash before his eyes as trundle) in this late work from blacklistee and ZULU helmer Cy Endfield, produced by AIP. One wonders what must have gone wrong with Endfield’s career to bring him to this point — and thence to the horrors of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER? After 1965′s SANDS OF THE KALAHARI, he didn’t work for four years, and when he did…

…he got a project already rejected by Roger Corman. Corman told his bosses at AIP that this movie wouldn’t work, since the censors would let them show what they needed to show in order to make a respectable life of Sade. He also voiced concerns with their choice of replacement — there was some doubt that Endfield would be able to bring himself to include the exploitation elements the film needed in the marketplace. The whole thing was a balancing act between the censors and the box office. Endfield faithfully promised to shoot a spicy yarn, but seemingly chickened out when it came to the crunch, so Corman was roped in to shoot some extra skin.

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How we laughed. Pouring hot wax on prostitutes — I guess you had to be there.

You can pretty much identify the Corman interpolations: he shoots the orgies in slow motion through a thick red filter, just like Hazel Court’s satanic rite in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. It pretty well robs the scenes of erotic potential, since we lose the flesh tones, and gain only the opportunity to observe jiggling cellulite at 100 fps. Also, everybody’s laughing in Dullea’s orgies. The relationship between sex and humour is a complex one, but generally speaking, if you’re throwing an orgy (does one throw orgies? Or organize them, like posses?) and the “guests” or “participants” or “fuckers” or whatever you call them, are in a constant state of hysteria, is anything going to get done? Is anyone going to get done?

Leaving aside the sex, we have the story, at least in theory. It’s a kind of biography-by-hallucination, comparable to Raoul Ruiz’s more recent KLIMT, only written by Richard Matheson. I admire Matheson’s work, and his contribution to cinema is as fine as his contribution to genre fiction, but I have to admit his bad-guy dialogue is inclined to the fruity. He really needs Vincent Price to get away with some of these lines. A few years later, acting in a TV version of Huxley’s Brave New World, Dullea would display the camp chops necessary to pull off a Vincent, but here he lacks full confidence in his flounce and pout, so it’s left to older hams to relish the rich flow of Matheson’s verbiage.

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Darling Lilli — still porcelain-perfect, but huge black eyes like mouseholes.

Lilli Palmer is in fine fettle as Sade’s mother-in-law (and WHAT a mother-in-law!), and John Huston has disruptive fun with the part of Sade’s wicked uncle, the Abbé. He even plays his first scene with some kind of stage Oirish accent, just because he’s John Huston and nobody can stop him. He also gets the most disturbing scene, the primal scene, if you will, where Sade as a boy spies on his uncle molesting a maid, and then gets caught and punished. The future arch-pervert’s young mind forms a lasting association between sex, cruelty and voyeurism. It’s all very dollar-book Freud, but it’s passable as motivation, and the sequence is genuinely distressing. I’m not sure you could even film it nowadays.

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Eyes Wide Crossed.

Complicating the psychodrama is his love for his sister-in-law. He’s forced to wed plain-jane Anna Massey (in the middle film of her sadeian trilogy, sandwiched between PEEPING TOM and FRENZY) despite being hopelessly in love with glamourpuss Senta Berger. This embitters him and sets him on his path of sexual turpitude, if turpitude is the word for it.

vlcsnap-854234Senta’s little helper.

Matheson may have a simplistic but clear angle on Sade’s psychosexual upset, but he’s forced to short-change us on Sade the philosopher. The do-what-thou-wilt catechisms we associate with Sade’s books are here either ignored, in order to present us with Sade the lovelorn drip, or they’re given to the Abbé, the real villain of the piece. This rather falsifies the story, and is the aspect of the film the Divine Marquis would no doubt have despised the most. In fact, Sade’s writing barely gets a look in.

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape…”

Paul Schrader observed, when he was making Mishima, that the only way to film a writer’s life was by dramatizing his stories. With a composer, you play the music; with a painter, you show the work; but a novelist is unique since you have to actually adapt their art into a whole new medium just to give some (unavoidably falsified) idea of what they do. I’d be interested in a radical solution to this problem that involved lengthy recitations, but I can’t think of one of hand. All I can think of is films that dramatize the work (MISHIMA, DREAMCHILD, GOTHIC) or films that don’t, and fail (IRIS). And oh yes, a third category, which DESADE falls into –

– along with Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH — the films which create a phantasmagoria, the life of the artist merged with their work, or filtered through their style. That’s what Matheson has tried to write, but he’s unable to get to grips with Sade’s pornographic side, and unwilling to get to grips with his world-view (which is arguably even more unpleasant). But at least it gives him an unusual style and structure. Increasingly the film plays like the last act of Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL, with reality and fantasy cascading together in an avalanche of dream.

How do you solve a problem like the Marquis? I confess I haven’t seen MARQUIS, in which the naughty nobleman’s life is enacted by puppets designed by renaissance man Roland Topor, with the Marquis’s most satisfying relationship being with his talking penis, but that sounds like the most realistic version conceivable. Nor have I seen Peter Brook’s film of his stage success, THE MARAT/SADE. I have scant regard for Brook as a filmmaker, but that might be at least a bit interesting. Saw the play once. It was a bit interesting. Philip Kaufman’s QUILLS falls flat because again, it’s reluctant to admit how nasty Sade’s fantasies were: when it tries to do so, the film’s rather jovial tone disintegrates, which would be fine if it were an intentional effect, but it doesn’t seem to be. Pasolini’s SALO is still the most unadulterated, apocalyptic version of Sade put on screen, and that was promptly banned in nearly every country on Earth. I believe it was legal to screen it on the Moon, but the film came out three years after the last manned flight there. I’m not sure astronaut Eugene A. Cernan has seen the film to this day.

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Their royal lownesses, the King and Queen of Lilliput.

Returning to the Endfield: he directs it with some pictorial flair (although my MGM DVD seems to cut things off at the top), aided by decorous locations, but there’s sometimes a lack of good sense in his shooting: after showing the newly married Dullea and Massey advancing between two lines of people, he cuts to a reverse angle, seemingly a POV, but shot from knee-height as if the protagonists had been abruptly munchkinated. He’s also inclined to masturbate the zoom lens a bit.

Somehow, the film is still a decent watch, maybe because it has enough bad taste  to compensate for its lack of bad taste. It’s not offensive as porn or very upsetting as drama (apart from that one scene), but it’s decorated with enough lapses of common sense to make it amusing. The opening credits, in which Sade is envisioned as a ball-playing winged fish, are ludicrously abstract, and the music by the wonderfully-named Billy Strange chooses to equate decadence with modernity, so that the faux-18th century chamber music segues into bongo jazz or wah-wah guitar whenever anything juicy threatens to happen. Like most bad decisions in films scoring, this approach has a perfectly sound reason behind it: it’s just that it doesn’t work. I expect Michael Mann to try something similar any day now.

Here’s some more sado-erotic action with Lilli Palmer, thirty years earlier in Carol Reed’s pre-make of SHOWGIRLS, enticingly entitled A GIRL MUST LIVE. Lilli’s Scottish opponent is the great Renee Houston.

World’s Worst

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by dcairns

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I joined Twitter 11 months ago, and thought it was time I actually did something there, so I asked everybody for their worst cinema experiences, figuring I could compile that into a simple blog post quickly, and it might be amusing. Then I put the same request on Facebook, so I could test which is better.

Facebook wins!

Via Twitter, regular Shadowplayer and cartoonist Douglas Noble writes,“Dundonian EXORCIST audience, no heating, film snaps, advice yelled to screen, stair-fall exodus. I think I’ve mentioned it before.” I picture the audience’s breath misting in the projector beam.

Whereas, touchingly, Elver Loho, one of the very first Shadowplayers EVER, Twittered back, “Worst cinema experience? Don’t think I’ve ever had a truly bad one.” If that’s true I’m moving to Estonia.

Now, the FaceBook landslide.

Mandy Lee, inventor of the Human Swastika, chimed in with the following lament: “THE CRUCIBLE in a multiplex. About halfway through, the film went on fire and started bubbling and melting on the screen – it was creepy and at first no-one really knew if it was a special effect or not, then we got evacuated. Sort of fitting though, bearing in mind the subject matter.” I’m picturing Philippe Noiret ablaze in the projection booth. I’ve seen that happen with THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY at Edinburgh University Film Society. Slightly alarming.

Musician Daniel Prendeville: “A Saturday night sitting behind Paddy Twomey in the Astor Cinema, trying to watch THE LAST WALTZ, while the sleeping Paddy, all 6’5″ of him, shifted in his seat, obscuring my view for the entire film.

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Baris Azman: “One was with THE STRAIGHT STORY, which I saw in an arthouse theatre, where there were tons of old ladies in the theatre. Two behind me and my friends literally commented on almost every thing that happened during the film. “Oh my what happened?”, “Oh my, the lawnmower broke down. Oh my, he’s getting off. Oh my, there’s a truck …  coming.” And on and on and on, ’till I finally turned around and asked them to be quiet, we can all SEE what is happening. They then proceeded to call me “rude”.

The other one was where PULP FICTION was screened in a theatre in 2005, finally I was able to watch it on the big screen, finally after all those years. I’m enjoying the hell out of myself ’till there is a reel change somewhere around the scene where they have to clean up the mess they made with Marvin and what happens… the next reel us not only upside down, but in reverse. The projectionist had spliced one of the reels backwards.

We got our money back, but it screened only once.”

Michal Oleszczyk: “A very recent screening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE, with a group of teenage girls giggling at each Craig’s line (I’m still wondering what dirty double entendres did they get that missed me).” Sounds like an enhanced experience to me.

Filmmaker Timo Langer sympathises: “I have a simular one to Michal…Watched RUN LOLA RUN in Germany next to a guy which commented almost every exciting scene if not cut with the word “Phat”…the cool word at the time as I remember.”

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Celebrity guest Lara Belmont, star of Tim Roth’s THE WAR ZONE, volunteers: “THE THIN RED LINE, you know you’re in trouble when the nature shots are the only reason to stay, and even they end up driving you out of the cinema.”As a devout Malickite, I can’t agree, but I can understand. There are a lot of leaves in that film, and some of them have more screen time than George Clooney. 

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Regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider: “Well, there was always the midnight screening of David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS where the crowd was beery and numskulled and, when a face came onscreen who vaguely resembled Henry Kissinger, a male voice called out “Looks like a Jew!” … causing me to think “That’s my cue to leave.”” The Kissingeralike would be Joe Silver, also seen in RHINOCEROS, I think.

Brilliantly, filmmaker May Miles Thomas had an unpleasant run-in with the same film: “Years ago I went with my boyfriend to see SHIVERS at the Lyceum, Govan. Unfortunately boyfriend arrived stoned. Ten minutes in, he excused himself and never returned. I was about to leave when the usherette (50s, bespectacled) came up to me in a panic. I ran to the foyer and found boyfriend with his head embedded in a plasterboard wall. ‘Too scary for him’, opined the usherette. He claimed to have fainted on the way to the toilets.” Why this movie? Is there something strange about SHIVERS? Surely not.

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Brian Robinson: “AMERICAN PSYCHO – “Hee hee hee”, said the apparently disabled (but not physically so) man to my immediate right as Christian Bale slapped around two prostitutes during a bout of rough sex. And then his hand slipped into his trousers and I frantically searched for a way to get away without actually passing him. “Hee hee hee”.” Brrr.

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Two from Mary Gordon: “Watching KUNDUN at the Lumiere with the house lights up and remonstrating with the museum staff that Mr Scorsese mde it to be seen in the dark; watching an EIFF documentary, Armenian, no dialogue and someone behind me with a runing commentary with what was happening on screen (came close to being banged up in Cornton Vale that day).”

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Shadowplay informant Danny Carr: “Watching THE WIZARD OF OZ while a friend snogged my ex-girlfriend a row behind me. The film was tainted for years to come!” Ouch.

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Harriet Hunter: “Going to see WOLF CREEK and speding most of it trying to hide under the seat and wispering ‘I can’t watch this,I can’t watch this’,yet still watching It with one eye closed…not a great experience for the friend I was with.” Still, I’d say that was appropriate behaviour at a horror movie. Extreme, but appropriate.

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My producer, Nigel Smith: “My first cinema experience was part of a schoolfriend’s birthday party. What sort of parents would take a bunch of excitable six year olds to see Tommy Steele in HALF A SIXPENCE? That’s tantamount to abuse.” It is pretty bad, I remember that film. It’s quite hard to take on TV. On the big screen it would be like getting your brain opened with a Mantle retractor.

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But Mary suggests something worse: “Easy – WATERSHIP DOWN: I spent years after that checking for Nazi rabbits under my bed…”

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Filmmaker Johannes Roberts: “A teenage audience laughing everytime John Carpenter cut to a close up of a sweaty close up of the fat Baldwin culminating in a prolonged groan for his close up kiss with Sheryl Lee, in VAMPIRES.” I don’t know, that sounds like an enhancement.

Also debatable, Chris B’s use of refreshments: “Ahoy, I went to see ELOGE DE L’AMOUR at the cinema back in 2001/2002, a film that had falsely been advertised as a romantic comedy in the Julia Roberts vein (only, avec subtitles). The first odd occurrence in this rather yuppy district was a young man called his mother before the film began (which is ok) to tell her that he was watching a Godard film; clearly he felt some kind of superiority in this triumphant choice of screening and had to call his mum to join in on the celebration.

The film began and the audience, allowing it some leeway despite not being prepared for the film they expected, became a little restless; the guy sat behind me even said to his complaining girlfriend that “this is interesting, let’s give it some more time”, but she was having none of that and, maybe being a French film’n’all, must’ve felt that in order to “fill the void” that the film was leaving, became horny and began the process of fellatio. I must say, I was fairly familiar with ELOGE having owned and rewatched the DVD countless times prior to the 35mm announcement; so, and despite Godard’s eclectic and whimsical play with soundtrack, I knew that the wet slapping sound emerging from behind me was not part of the Dolby Digital output. This continued for some time until oral did not suffice and a move to full-on penetration would be the order of the day, albeit discretely(?). Well, as much as I enjoy people enjoying themselves, they were encroaching upon MY cinema experience and something had to be done. I waited until the first credit appeared (the film plays out until the very end); exited the room to buy a couple of large Cokes (with ice, please); returned; and threw my purchases all over the couple who were in no position to begin pursuit of the perpetrator! Was this a bad movie experience? I’m not sure thinking about it.”

As for me, I recall being physically threatened by an oddly aggressive stoner sitting behind me at a screening of BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS, which didn’t seem so funny, and there was a very weird screening of THE IDIOTS at Cannes where Fiona and I found ourselves crawling along some kind of balustrade to get to our seats (the festival had kept us waiting outside until the film started), not quite a science fiction film AIR VENT, but close, and then when we reached our seats we could dimly hear the simultaneous English translation whispering from the armrests, but couldn’t find any way to ACCESS it, so ended up watching the film in Danish with French subs, which actually improved it. If you can understand what they’re saying, that sure isn’t a very good movie.

I think the John Cleese movie CLOCKWISE was the worst, though. It just seemed like the death of everything precious in cinema.

This, of course, is your cue to offer up YOUR experiences.

BOOM

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

ÉCOUTE LES TEMPS is a moody French drama with supernatural elements. We had a particular interest in the subject because it relates a bit to Fiona’s last feature script, written for the delightful Terry Gross who’s trying to set it up as a low budget production. Both stories deal with supernatural SOUNDS, heard in the home of a dead loved one.

Early in the film there’s a strange black shape visible at the top of frame in a couple of shots. It stays in position as the camera pans, and I realised it’s the matte box, an apparatus on the front of the camera that’s used for attaching filters. It shouldn’t be in shot!

“The DVD must be showing too much of the image — this is stuff that was supposed to be masked out,” I said. Dogwoof Pictures, who released the film, should have taken more care. “If this keeps up, there’ll be some boom mics in shot too,” and sure enough, a little later:

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Check the “shaggy dog” microphone baffler hovering above the guy’s head, top centre. But I thought THIS was going a bit far:

Not really, of course, that last one is deliberate, since our protag, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is a sound recordist investigating her mother’s murder in a cottage that seems to have somehow recorded the events that transpired within: her microphone picks up audio flashbacks from different periods depending where in space she positions it. A rather fascinating idea, akin to Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Stone Tape, which develops very slowly from a methodical, low-key treatment. Our heroine takes to marking out her flat with lengths of twine, stretched through the time-space like an LSD-fuelled spider’s web, or like the elaborate defense mechanism constructed by the hero of Cronenberg’s SPIDER.

The purpose of Charlotte’s web is to pinpoint the exact point in space that stores the sounds of the murder being committed.

I lightly liked this — a reasonably standard Hollywood structure based on a really smart idea, and treated in a gradual, unfussed, very French manner. Hyping stuff up would have hurt it, and rendered it plastic and overfamiliar like the worst aspects of THE ORPHANAGE. What first-time writer/director Alanté Kavaïté loses in moment-by-moment drama, she gains in conviction, and a pace and tone that feel unusual when applied to this kind of material. Although her soundtrack throbs with constant reverberant atmospheres, the film reminded me a tiny bit of Jacques Rivette’s very quiet ghost story L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIENNE, which appropriately contains the ghost of a microphone boom.

I shall explain. Early on, Julienne picks up his cat and lies down. The cat sees something overhead — an offscreen mic, is my guess — and its attention is rivetted, if you’ll excuse the pun bollocks. Julienne asks the cat if it can hear somebody moving about upstairs. There’s nobody upstairs, of course — or nobody of this world.

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