Archive for John Cleese

Egg and his face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2011 by dcairns

Jon Whiteley in HUNTED prepares to suck eggs.

John Cleese, while working with Charles Crichton (either on A FISH CALLED WANDA or on one of the corporate training films they made together) once asked his director, “Were you the best director at Ealing?”

“No,” said Charlie. “Sandy [Mackendrick] was the best. I was the second best.”

HUNTED, starring young Whiteley and Dirk Bogarde, ably demonstrates Crichton’s skills — it’s beautifully shot and cut. Unfortunately, the script seems, well, unfinished — the tale of a criminal who takes a runaway boy with him as he tries to flee justice, it never produces a satisfactory explanation for why Dirk drags Jon along for the journey in the first place, and leaves us with a frustrating uncertainty as to the final outcome. Along the way, there’s terrific acting from the principles, and some terrific scenes.

Poor Dirk must have had a tough time — filming with a kid, and in Scotland, to boot. (Dirk was raised in Glasgow, and detested it.)

The highlight is Whiteley, in his debut role. He won the Oscar the next year for the second of his five films, THE KIDNAPPERS. He’s fantastically natural, with a serious, mournful air — the solemnity that makes him so funny in THE KIDNAPPERS and so moving in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET. But his best moments are obviously not acting at all, they’re just kid behaviour captured by a patient and prepared filmmaker.

Piercing his egg with a twig, little Jon almost loses it completely. Like most wee boys, he’s thrilled by mess, so the sudden sensation of exposed yolk/yuck places him in a helpless state of hilarity, mingled with a frisson of horror. “WHAT NOW?” his face signals, contorting itself in a fast-moving flickbook of emotion.

The other great bit is laughing and eating — again, impossible for this to be acted. Strangely exhilarating to watch.

A fish called supper.

In real life, kids’ faces move about all the time, as if attempting break loose from their skulls and run amok. And in real life, people’s faces sometimes move in more extreme ways than movie actors allow. Actors learn restraint, and to stop waggling their eyebrows, and generally they also lose the wonderful unselfconscious writhing, puffing and grimacing of the untutored countenance.

The Near Future

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by dcairns

My friend Niall Greig Fulton’s retrospective season at Edinburgh Film Festival has already produced some fascinating and little-seen works from Britain in and around the seventies. While Peter Watkins’ PRIVILEGE is often dismissed as a misfire, it’s a very interesting one, and I haven’t ever read anything which really pins down its virtues and vices in a way I recognise.

Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton get a lot of stick for their flat, depressive delivery, but the non-actors actually work quite well with Watkins’ faux-documentary approach. It’s the more experienced cast members, playing in a slightly comedic manner, who clash with the verité trappings. And indeed, those stylistic choices seem a little unhelpful. This is meant to be a near future world where a pop star is used as a means of controlling and subduing dissent. But no BBC documentarist would ever be allowed to document such a process in a real totalitarian state, so the film might have been more convincing as fiction. Or, if Watkins was determined to employ the style he’d successfully used on CULLODEN and THE WAR GAME, he ought to have had the grotesque establishment figures played in a more subdued manner — inventing the low-key comedy of something like The Office, perhaps.

Watkins seems a reclusive sort, but Kevin Billington was on hand to introduce his 1970 film THE RISE AND RISE OF MICHAEL RIMMER, which he co-scripted with Peter Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (who all appear). While PRIVILEGE is set in a sixties vision of the near future, the Billington is resolutely contemporary, yet seems far more prophetic. It was nice to learn that the drones of Watkins’ dystopia are watched over by a coalition government, “since there is no longer any difference in policy between Labour and Conservative,” but RIMMER’s idea that party politics are rendered redundant by the overwhelming power of the PR department is more sinister yet.

In PRIVILEGE, the church harnesses the power of a youth icon to make the masses conform — “By 1990 the only people going to church will be the clergy,” and to boost attendance (but the film is oddly tone deaf about pop culture, and we’re never convinced a move this bald-faced would work), but the bishop played by the great Graham Crowden in RIMMER has progressed beyond this. “We’ve tried everything, you know:  pop groups, bingo, hallucinogenic drugs in the wafers, son et lumiere in the graveyards…” Rimmer, played by Peter Cook with sinister smiling emptiness, a thin void in smart duds, tells him the problem is God, and they had best get rid of Him.

Like all the films so far, the movies are both thronging with familiar acting talent — the lovely James Cossins is in both. And Harold Pinter appears as a current affairs show host — I laughed at the name of his show, Steven Hench is Talking To You. Here’s Billington on meeting Pinter ~

Billington: “It all seemed to be I was in, as I discovered later, this Pinter world, when you were with him. [...] Whenever you were alone with him, wherever you were, the world became the way he wrote. It’s the most extraordinary thing. With just one or two marvelous writers, in a funny way, this is how the world is with them.”

Billington very sweetly apologized to the ladies in the audience for the film’s prevalent sexism — a near-pornographic advert for sweeties produced by Rimmer is acceptable as satire (and anybody who’s seen a ’70s Cadbury’s Flake ad know how close to reality it is) but starlet Vanessa Howard is served up in a gratuitous nude scene which cheapens the movie. She doesn’t have much of a role, and it’s sad when you see how amazing she is in Freddie Francis’s nearly-lost weirdfest GIRLY.

Meanwhile, we have creeping dictatorship, covert invasion of a non-threatening country, bogus weapons of mass destruction, and the evidence of a generous budget from Warners, making this an unusually lavish and ambitious British comedy for any era (produced by David Frost of FROST/NIXON fame).

Me: “There must have been times in the last several years when you’d be watching the news and experience deja vu. Was there a particular moment when you thought, ‘This might not be satire anymore?'”

Billington: “Absolutely. I do have to say that the whole New Labour thing smacked so much… of how you ask the people… this whole thing is the people, they’re going to decide. Which has obviously strong links back to socialism in the early days. That’s not the way it’s used here. [...] I could see the way politicians wanted to use television, and what they were actually thinking was ‘How do we come across?’ [...] So when Blair suddenly was there, and his youth, ‘a New Tomorrow’ etc etc… I shouldn’t go on about Blair because at the moment we have a chap called Cameron who has a certain amount of PR about him. So I’m not being party political at all now, it just happened that that’s the way it came.”

It certainly did.

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.
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