Archive for Don’t Look Now

Falling Don

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by dcairns

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“That’s a lot of money for a dame without a head” — statue outside the Church of St Nicholas in Venice, where DON’T LOOK NOW was filmed. Forty years on and they STILL haven’t got a head on that thing.

A story from Philip Kaufman’s commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS — he was filming the climax, with Donald Sutherland gamely staggering around a catwalk high in the air in a big greenhouse, and a mutual acquaintance approached. “Is that Donald Sutherland up there?” Kaufman affirmed that it was, and his friend, with a note of panic, cried “Don’t you know he’s The Clumsiest Man Alive?”

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This makes Sutherland’s cameo as “The Accident-Prone Waiter” in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE much funnier, but adds a frisson of terror to DON’T LOOK NOW and several other Sutherland films. As Sutherland described it to Mark Cousins in a TV interview, the scene in DLN where he dangles from a rope at ceiling level in a cavernous Venetian church was originally going to be performed by a stunt man. But, he says, rather apathetically, the stunt man “wasn’t happy about something” and in the end Sutherland volunteered and did the dangling himself. He had a kirby wire running down his sleeve to a harness, securing him so he couldn’t actually fall.

Years later Sutherland is talking to another stuntman, who congratulates him on the awe-inspiringly dangerous sequence. Sutherland demurs: “I was quite safe, I was fastened to a kirby wire…” “But you were going like this,” says the stunt man, making a twirling motion with his index finger to indicate the way Sutherland spun helplessly on his rope. “Yes, I was.” “Well, when you go like that on a kirby wire, the kirby wire breaks.”*

Sutherland actually had premonitions of doom on the movie, feeling that it was such a tragic and death-haunted tale, somebody might actually have to die while making it. Fortunately for him, that was silly.

But one of the strange pleasures of re-watching the film with students — and it unlocks fresh pleasures each time — is the number of times poor Donald falls on his ass, or nearly so, during the show. Nic Roeg has him staggering along beside canals, blundering over barges, and straddling ledges fifty feet up… It’s all a touch ungainly. Julie Christie, meanwhile, negotiates rowing boats and the like with the grace and dexterity that only the Rank Charm School can instill.

What else — ?

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Odd framings, like this shot which picks up a sinister sign-post as a plank glides across the lower edge of frame like a shark’s fin.

Constant communication trouble: Sutherland speaks fluent Italian to his work crew, but whenever faced with an emotional question or a conversation with a woman, his language deserts him. “English… English…” he pleads abjectly.

Julie Christie sees a police sketch of one of the two sisters (vacationing from Scotland, though their accents are VERY English) — “It doesn’t really look like her.” “It doesn’t matter,” says Inspector Longi (how I’d love a whole series of films about his unsuccessful cases! Maybe he could team up with Harvey Keitel’s Inspector Netusil from BAD TIMING to fight crime ineffectually across Europe). He means, “It doesn’t matter since no crime has been committed and we’re no longer seeking her,” but what Christie understands, from her nonplussed expression, is obviously “It doesn’t matter if our sketches don’t resemble the people we’re looking for because that’s not their purpose.” Whole worlds of mystery open up at that thought.

The first view of Julie –

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This prefigures the film’s climax, which hinges on that uncanny lurch you feel when you approach somebody you know and they turn around and it’s not them. I first got this with a woman who wasn’t my mum in the supermarket when I was small. (“His little world swung half around; the points of the compass were reversed.” ~ Chickamauga, by Ambrose Bierce.)

I was in Venice recently, making a side-trip from Pordenone on a free day after the Silent Film festival had ended, and I visited Donald’s church. It’s still there, looks the same, but doesn’t have any mosaics that I could see. They don’t let you take pictures inside as they fear the camera will steal away the Holy Spirit, I guess, but I snapped away outside. And no, I didn’t see any little figures in red macs. Fiona suggests the Venice town council should hire little people to dart about and peak from round corners wearing the appropriate plastic attire. She’s right — I think you’d only need about seven at a time to cover the city. You wouldn’t want them to become commonplace or anything.

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Donald sees a glove on a window ledge. I saw a segment of orange.

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*Sutherland has another great story about shooting Bertolucci’s 1900 which left him with concussion and a half-severed ear. I can tell it in the comments section if there’s interest.

Me and My Galatea (Male Chauvinist Pygmalion)

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 15, 2013 by dcairns

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THE DOLL MAKER — from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — spectacularly creepy melodrama about a maker of dolls (picture Gepetto crossed with Jimmy Stewart’s character in VERTIGO) who constructs a life-sized replica of his deceased daughter and dresses her in the slain sprog’s last outfit. He also cruelly rejects his young son, so upset is he by the loss of his little eye-candy-apple.

The story reaches a preposterous “touching” conclusion when the son’s she-urchin playmate, secretly invited by him to spend the night indoors, accidentally breaks the doll and is forced to take its place to conceal the destruction. Dad gets quite a surprise when he notices his babykins mannequin (babyquin?) is breathing, then resolves to adopt the child. Is she going to be a substitute for the original daughter or a substitute for the substitute? Is this meant to be a happy ending? I felt anxious rather than satisfied, since the film never made clear what Dad was getting up to with his baby doll in that back room…

The ending does suggest an alternate happy ending for DON’T LOOK NOW, in which Donald Sutherland welcomes the knife-wielding dwarf lady into his family as replacement for his departed daughter. Good sequel opportunities.

No images available for this film, and no credits either — practically nothing is known about it.

Sex-Positif

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2013 by dcairns

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Amazing! Picked up the special edition of Positif from 1964 in Lyon for two measly euros. This was a FIND, partly because it intersects with NATAN, the film Paul Duane and I made. Bernard Natan has been falsely connected with several pornographic films, and one of the “sources” for this is a short list of early smut films in the back of this magazine. Many of the films are unattributed, but a few have the name “Nathan” attached. The anonymous author probably did mean Natan, since earlier publications like a 1938 edition of Match also attributed some of the same titles to Natan. But repeating the allegations strikes me as dodgy, since the Positif “article” gives no sources, offers no evidence, and getting the guy’s name wrong doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence. (Natan’s name is spelled “Nathan” all over the place — Georges Sadoul does it in his Histoire General du Cinema, despite getting it right elsewhere in the same book. This is odd, since the title Pathe-Natan appeared ahead of all Natan’s thirties films, often with his signature.)

Anyway, the magazine has a few other things of interest, as you’d expect, including the following piquant questionnaire, which I think we can have some fun with.

MR INDIA. Invisible man musical sexiness,

1) What is the most erotic movie you ever saw? Give your reasons.

2) What seems to you to be the perfect example of a non-erotic movie? Limiting yourself, of course, to films that deal with love.

3) Has the cinema had an influence on your erotic life?

4) What situations, scenes, objects or attitudes in the cinema, seem to you to have the greatest erotic significance?

5) Who is the actress (or actor) who, for you, embodies eroticism? Why?

6) Of  those who are supposed to embody eroticism on screen, which actor (or actress) is for you the negation or eroticism? Why?

7) What erotic work would you like you see adapted (or would you like to adapt yourself) to the screen? With who?

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Fellini’s last drawing: on the bottom of a model in a magazine.

A few notes on the questions and answers.

I love the “(or actor)” and “(or actress)” which are positioned with a hilarious assumption that most of the respondents will be straight men. In film criticism, has this ever been true? At any rate, they at least allow for exceptions, but they want to make it very clear, via parenthesis, that they ARE exceptions. At any rate, the only women quoted are France Roche (respected screenwriter, still with us at 91) and critic Grace Winter.

The aforementioned Sadoul puts Dovzhenko’s EARTH at the top, which surprised me as I didn’t hear swooning over its sexiness at Pordenone, but maybe I didn’t have my ear to the right patch of ground. And maybe I should see for myself. Sadoul is also very keen on Louise Brooks, who was undergoing rediscovery.

Raymond Durgnat is fascinating, as you’d expect. Lots of top choices for erotic film, including but not limited to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 42ND STREET, PICKPOCKET, KING KONG, HAXAN and ARTISTS AND MODELS. Polymorphous perversity! But I have to admit, Shirley MacLaine looks cute as Bat Lady.

Private Property (1960) Directed by Leslie Stevens Shown: Kate Manx

The little-known PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960, above) appears on Durgnat’s non-erotic list, and on Grace Winter’s erotic list. Makes me want to see it!

Michel Ciment champions QUEEN KELLY (a popular choice), Sternberg and Bunuel. The ideal erotic film, he says, would stand at an equal distance between Stroheim, Sternberg and Bunuel.

Ciment and several people mention BRIEF ENCOUNTER as a film about love without sex appeal. One critic hasn’t even seen it, and says it’s a good thing too.

Roche on unerotic actors: “Cary Grant: old young man with still-young arteries, but dry elsewhere. Rex Harrison: furry slippers and lumbago.” Mean! This question is apt to get VERY mean, so let’s try not to turn into John Simon when we approach it. John Simon is not a good look.

Poor Brigitte Bardot gets cited as an answer to question (5) by several correspondents. Vadim is chosen as an unerotic director, but Gerard Legrand disagrees and puts ET DIEU CREA LA FEMME at the top of his sexiness chart. Clearly, the negative feeling about BB was simply a reaction against the prevailing fashion, as if there’s one thing she is for most people, it’s sexy. It’s perfectly legitimate to disagree, but so many erotic nay-sayers?

Also: those who put Delphine Seyrig or Grace Kelly in their hot spot, are correspondingly apt to dismiss BB and all the busty Italians of the era.

Lotte Eisner has the best choice for work of fiction to be adapted: William Beckford’s Gothic novel Vathek, under the aegis of Luis Bunuel. Don Luis crops up as preferred adaptor on several lists. The Gothic fiction he really wanted to do was The Monk, of course.

Someone called Debourcieu chooses a science-fiction novel by someone called Pierre Versins, and wants Minnelli, Sinatra, Novak and choreography by Jack Cole.

OK. Harumph. Now, it behooves me to answer the questions myself, and honestly. Rather than just knocking everyone else’s choices. In theory I have an advantage, since I have almost fifty years more cinema to draw upon, and it’s a half-century that’s enjoyed more latitude than the earlier era. On the other hand, I have a disadvantage: shyness.

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Evidence: I was just in a room with Dominique Sanda, who meant a lot to me as a youngster and still does. Now, at her age, would she be horrified if I said, as Jonathan Ross did to Britt Ekland, “Thank you for helping me through those difficult teenage years?” I think not. But instead I just gave her a small salute. She saluted back, perhaps slightly bemused.

1) Impossible to pick a single most erotic film: too self-revealing. But

(a) I had my young mind blown by Robbe-Grillet’s TRANS-EUROP EXPRESS. It’s very dodgy, though;

(b) BETTY BLUE, for all its serious problems, did combine explicitness and photogenics, and if the story had some nasty, unexamined retrograde aspects, the sex was good (everyone seemed to enjoy it);

(c) SOME LIKE IT HOT: kissing as hard porn (fleshly, leering, over-extended), and a film which refused to go as far as I wanted it to, but teetered on the brink like an expert tightrope walker;

(d) GIRL WITH A SUITCASE: the power of enforced chastity: the young hero is home alone with Claudia Cardinale, who seems eminently available. It’s like RISKY BUSINESS for the DOLCE VITA generation. But as he’s a realistic teen not a Hollywood concoction, he doesn’t know what the hell to do so nothing happens. For two hours! It’s hell, I tell you.

(I didn’t see La Cardinale in Lyon, though she was apparently there — the encounter could only be disappointing, in the sense that I would be disappointed in myself.)

(e) THE WICKER MAN had a lot of impact on my b&w portable TV in the bedroom, fuzzy signal picked up from Grampian Regional Television, and probably would’ve “worked” even without the nudity — the singing, the drumming, and the torment, plus the extreme duration

A theme is emerging here in spite of my best efforts: the theme of intense frustration. And yet THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and the other versions of La Femme et le Pantin don’t do that much for me.

2) Non-erotic movie? I just visited Venice so DON’T LOOK NOW is in my mind. The justly celebrated sex scene is sensitive, intimate, frank, tender, emotional, and beautifully played and rendered. Of course, as a male person I can obviously be stimulated by anything with a naked woman in it as long as she’s not actually Michelle Bachman, but for me what is impressive about the scene is how it doesn’t particularly need the audience to become excited about sex or skin (and as for the age-old “Are they really doing it?” — PUH-LEEZE). It’s beautiful, and not in a vapid way, just not in a way that’s strictly sexual. And it’s one of very, very few films to show married people having sex. With the possible intent of having a child. And the censors still went after it. THAT’S the obscenity.

(See also: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.)

3) Yes, cinema has influenced my erotic life. It has BEEN my erotic life for more of the time than I care to discuss. It seems unfair to blame any kinks or hang-ups on the movies, though — although James B. Harris, at Lyon, stated unequivocally that the theme of his deeply weird SOME CALL IT LOVING is that people get sexually imprinted by their first encounter with sex, in which case BARBARELLA has a lot to answer for and the continuing unavailability of an affordable Excessive Machine is a major problem.

I am trying to master that thing Donald Sutherland does with his arm in DON’T LOOK NOW. Am certain it’ll revolutionize my bedroom existence when I’ve got it down.

I am extremely lucky to be wed to a very impressive Louise Brooks type, and an even more impressive Fiona Watson type, Fiona Watson. Our shared love of movies is part of the bond.

4) I’m not at all sure how I’m supposed to define “erotic significance”. But I could list objects: The Excessive Machine (one wants to call it an Orgasmatron but it’s not); the windscreen in COOL HAND LUKE; the chair in CABARET; Joel Cairo’s cane in THE MALTESE FALCON; the boa and the numbered cards in IL MAGNIFICO CORNUTO; actually, this is harder than I thought — I guess I’m not much of a fetishist.

5) The embodiment of eroticism? My screen harem is too extensive to enumerate (picture Guido’s mental farmhouse in EIGHT AND A HALF but extending for at least a city block). Cardinale and Bardot both drive me berserk for reasons hard to justify on any higher plain. Ann-Margret in her (extensive) prime also. On a subtler note, Grace Kelly was my first love on the big screen. Louise Brooks is an obsession. For some reason, Elsa Martinelli is leaping unbidden to the forefront of my mind, but on another day it might be the Geeson sisters. Clara Bow. Romy Schneider.

Embodiment of male beauty: Horst Buchholtz. My idea of un vrai homme: James Coburn.

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6) The opportunity to be mean: the negation of erotica… Bo Derek never did anything for me. Her breasts seemed boring. Sharon Stone too artificial: la Welch a blushing ingenue by comparison. Madonna, always and forever unappealing, though Fincher tried in the videos. I see the glamour of Garbo and Dietrich but not only don’t want to but can’t even imagine engaging in any kind of passionate interaction with them. They are abstract creatures of light and I admire them enormously. Mickey Rourke always seemed disgusting. Tom Cruise never projects any sense of desire or desirability. Most of these people have other good traits though.

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7) At one point, Roman Polanski wanted to adapt the porno comics of Milo Manara as an animated feature. This strikes me as the worst combination possible, but Manara’s comics might be a suitable source. The lousy Jean-Louis Richard film of CLICK is quite good, even though it’s totally lousy, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, Manara is a deeply sexist idiot, and there’s a nastiness to his work I’d prefer to avoid — plus his real talent is his drawing, so why adapt him to another medium? His adaptation of unfilmed Fellini scenarios was a better way for him to engage with cinema.

Bertrand Blier and Alain Robbe-Grillet were both masters of the perverse who really get into their fantasies and make even the most obnoxious imaginings photogenic, but can they be trusted? Nic Roeg was more sound, you could even hand him something like The Story if the Eye. Jane Campion has a wonderful erotic imagination which can create powerful effects out of small, seemingly almost innocent things. Given her flair for the Gothic, Geoffrey Lewis’s The Monk?

The glimpses seen of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND suggest that Welles could have been a great director of sexy stuff.

Plans for another version of Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella have stultified for years, and by the way Robert Rodriguez is the wrong man. Incidentally, if you read the original comic, the lines that sound most like Terry Southern scripted them (the best lines) are already there. I’d love to see a BARBARELLA that had to aim for PG-13, so there was something to struggle with and smuggle through, some necessity for restraint. The original’s combo of American star, Italian design and French director was a neat selection, but they had the wrong Frenchman. Clouzot would have been better!

Keanu would have been a great Pygar.

Imagine Von Sternberg’s DRACULA, with Charles Boyer.

John Barrymore as CASANOVA for Cecil B. DeMille.

Now I want to hear from YOU. Regular commenters and people I never heard from before. Shadowplay just became the Kinsey report of the movie blogosphere. Spill it!

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