Archive for Kubrick

Mr Smith Goes to Town

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 1, 2014 by dcairns

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THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971) by Nelson Lyon Myers — this scene, near the opening, feels like it must have had an influence on CLOCKWORK ORANGE, right? Though the movies came out within a few months of each other. Still, I believe that if there were an influence, it was probably Lyon influencing Kubrick not the other way around, even though Kubes has a substantial filmography and Lyon has, basically, this one film.

Kubrick, through his contacts at Warners, probably got to see movies before they came out. And it’s interesting that his portrayal of the cat lady is a fairly substantial departure from Anthony Burgess’ source novel, which he’s otherwise fairly faithful to. In the book, the cat lady is a typical crazy cat lady. Making her run a health spa and have a large collection of erotic pop art was Kubrick’s idea. He also uses this to make her a shrill, middle-class lady and robs her of the pathos Burgess left her (which was never drawn attention to, you just felt it if you wanted to).

Also, Kubrick was kind of a phone freak (“Why should we spoil a perfectly good telephonic relationship by meeting?” he asked Boorman) and I think he’d have responded to the film’s creepy, impersonal brand of sex comedy.

Anyway, THE TELEPHONE BOOK is now available on a snazzy Blu-ray much more handsome than the ancient VHS rip I watched. Lyon has real cinematic flair and wit, and his sex farce is less obnoxious than comrade-in-arms and Kubrick connection Terry Southern’s. Although ditzy heroine Sarah Kennedy is constantly propositioned, obscene-phone-called or indecently exposed at, her innocence allows her to rise above it all. And she’s not stupid, just kind of space-y. And the movie doesn’t seem sadistic, it actually seems like it’s on her side.

(Kennedy receives the world’s greatest dirty phone call and spends the movie trying to track down the caller, one “John Smith”, convinced he’s the love of her life. Twisted, yes, but oddly good-natured. Misogyny is present, but it doesn’t seem imbued in the film, just floating around some of the characters, which is as close to realism as the film needs to get.)

Because it has a Warhol person (Ultra Violet) and is in b&w and has a sort of underground, Robert Downey counterculture vibe, it feels like a sixties film, until the naked ladies come on and then it’s, I guess you could say, timeless.

There’s also this, which is unmistakably Kubrickian, kind of the missing link between the droogs and that furry guy in THE SHINING ~

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The Telephone Book (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)

Lost in Time and Lost in Space… and Meaning

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by dcairns

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I was impressed by a shot in Adam Curtis’s free-form documentary found-footage mash-up IT FELT LIKE A KISS in which Doris Day closes a hotel room door in our face and the room number on it is 2001. Curtis uses this to evoke thoughts about the events of 9:11 and the more innocent-seeming world we dream existed before that act of unscheduled demolition opened the  war on abstract concepts. I became convinced that it might also be possible to draw connections between Kubrick’s film 2001 and the actual events on September 11th of that year. If, as ROOM 237 shows, THE SHINING can be bent this way and that to support an apparently unlimited range of unrelated theories, surely the even more open text of 2001 can act as a lens through which to view events which were still in the almost-unimaginable future when Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived their space odyssey?

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Kubrick begins with a desert landscape populated by aggressive cave-dwellers. Al-Qaeda? Racist to conflate arabs and ape-men, but in a way we’re only following the racist logic of much media reporting to see where it leads. 2001 begins with a land that doesn’t need to be bombed back to the stone age because it’s already there. The simians are visited by a shiny rectangular artifact, which we’ll spuriously claim represents the Twin Towers. Gazing at it in awe, they are inspired to discover weapons and kill.

Of course, the connection between apes and the World Trade Center is really made by the DeLaurentiis KING KONG, in which Kong scales one of the towers before leaping to the other, driven by some primal urge (he apparently relates the towers to a geographical feature of Skull Island). Attacked by helicopters, Kong (like the 2001 man-beasts, an uncredited actor in a costume) is shot down. KING KONG is directed by John Guillermin, who had considerable skyscraper experience, having just made THE TOWERING INFERNO. Thus Kubrick’s film, without containing any shots of large-scale destruction, calls to mind the events of 9:11 in a variety of ways in its very first sequence.

In Steve Bell’s newspaper strip in The Guardian, entitled If…, George W Bush was always portrayed as a simian. And IF… is also the title of the film starring Malcolm McDowell which got Little Malcolm the lead role in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (CLOCKWORK ORANGE can be seen as a black parody of 2001: a barbaric savage is reprogrammed by a higher power. In both cases, the primitive being is shown a film accompanied by German classical music — Moonwatcher the apeman perceives this with his mind’s eye, whereas Malcolm watches it on a traditional screen. The protagonists of both films end up in bed, transformed.)

In a justly famous transition, Kubrick match-cuts from a hurled bone to a spacecraft, cementing the notion of flying vehicles as weapons. Later we will meet spacecraft identified as belonging to Pan-Am Airlines, confirming that spacecraft are just evolved aircraft (and both are just evolved ape-weapons).

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Now we meet Space Station V, an orbiting base composed of two wheels, each constructed like a skyscraper swallowing its own tail. Parts of the station are apparently as yet incomplete, exposing red girders. To a Strauss waltz, we watch as a spacecraft flies directly into the station, but rather than causing destruction it is simply swallowed up. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, this space base has a restaurant and an unbeatable view. The WTC boasted of its top floor “observatories” and its “Windows on the World” restaurant and “Cellar in the Sky” bar. The SSV actually does feature windows on the world, through which the Earth can be seen, apparently spinning below.

On board, things are seething with international tension — in Kubrick’s vision of the future, Perestroika never happened so the Russians are still the threat. There’s also news of a strange discovery on the moon –

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The floodlit excavation sight is almost a dead ringer for New York’s Ground Zero, only with a skyscraper (the monolith) still rising out of it, impossibly. It’s existence causes another flight, this time to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite), which incidentally is one of the dozen places President Bush was flown to after the towers collapsed.

Now we find ourselves on a spacecraft on a secret mission, hijacked by a terrorist which started out disguised as a legitimate passenger on the craft (the shipboard computer). HAL kills the crew members in order to take over the ship, but he does it because “this mission is too important to allow you to jeopardise it.”

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Repeated image of a body tumbling through space.

Like the passengers on the hijacked planes, Kubrick’s astronauts can phone home. One receives the message “See you next Wednesday,” a line quoted in every John Landis film. Landis’s career has been marked by fatal aerial catastrophe. His movie SPIES LIKE US deals with a team of idiots deployed by corrupt commanders to distract attention while a war is started. His first movie, SCHLOCK, features numerous parodies of the apemen from 2001.

Like the passengers of United 93, Dave Bowman destroys the hijacker, resulting finally in his own death — but this is played in stylised form, first as a flight through distorted, psychedelic landscapes, then as an accelerated aging process, then with the traditional death-bed. In a white room whose floor is illuminated panels like the sides of a skyscraper.

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But at the foot of that death-bed, the monolith appears yet again, and once more we move inexorably towards its smooth surface, repeating yet again the collision with the WTC, an event which killed, among thousands of others, the sister of Marisa Berenson, who starred in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON. She was also the wife of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing a knife-wielding killer who struck in disguise, and who appeared in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE, which shares with 2001 a climax in which a passage through a space portal leads to a mysterious spiritual experience.

From the impact with the monolith, something new is born, but the movie is vague about what, exactly, can be expected from it…

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In a way this is a thought experiment, to see how many meaningful-seeming coincidences can be drawn between an event and a film which actually preceded it by decades and could not have been influenced by it in any traditional cause-and-effect way. In a way it’s a parody of such academic exercises. It’s also inspired a bit by the fancy footwork in this remarkable piece.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Goony Toons

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2011 by dcairns

ALF, BILL AND FRED is probably my favourite Bob Godfrey cartoon — I encountered it on Channel 4 sometime as a kid, back when Channel 4 would run unexpected surprises like this. It’s a simple, even twee, rags-to-riches type story, enlivened by a disrespectful approach to “style” and “production values” — Godfrey creates a style by ignoring or celebrating the clashes of mixed media, and doesn’t bother about things looking cheap.

There’s a strong resemblance to Terry Gilliam’s cut-out approach, which is also anticipated by Walerian Borowczyk’s collaboration with Chris Marker, LES ASTRONAUTS. WB supplies the persistent air of surreal nightmare that haunts Gilliam’s Monty Python work, while BG gives us the jokey blokeyness.

Godfrey also created KAMA SUTRA RIDES AGAIN, which I believe was the short screened with CLOCKWORK ORANGE on its release. I presume Kubrick approved it. Sex, violence and broad comedy: it could serve as a clue as to how Kubrick wanted his audience to react to his movie. I’ve really hate KSRA though — essentially a slapstick tour of various preposterous sexual positions, reimagined as Evel Knievel-style stunts. The cartoon lead’s wife becomes progressively more encased in plaster casts as the film goes on.  I’ve always disliked plaster-cast comedy: I howl with laughter at Laurel and Hardy’s COUNTY HOSPITAL, but that’s precisely because it doesn’t force one to think of pratfalls causing broken bones. Olie’ leg is in plaster from the very start, and we never get told how it happened. The movie is true to a scared principle of slapstick, which is that serious injury never results. I think even giving somebody a black eye is pushing it.

On the other hand, Godfrey also gave us THE DO IT YOURSELF CARTOON KIT, narrated by Goon Show alumnus Michael Bentine, which is pretty good. The Victoriana theme certainly seems like it must have influenced Gilliam’s work ~

Of course, what makes Gilliam more than a mere imitator is the wildness of his invention and the excellence of his timing, which owes little to anyone. Cut-out animation was merely a means to an end for Gilliam, in the same way that CGI FX and troubled mega-productions are now.

This one gave rise to a catchphrase in our house — whenever we have to lift Tash, our Siamese cat, out of trouble (a routine occurrence), grabbing her under the front legs and hoisting her until she is extruded into a long, vertical shape like Gilliam’s marauding mutant, we remark, in shrill, stentorian tones, “But at what cost?”

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