Archive for Milton Subotsky

Dream Repairman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2012 by dcairns

I’m a sucker for memoirs by cinematographers and editors — perhaps especially the latter. Sometimes these books can be frustrating because the authors are not experienced writers or may not understand what the reader would like to hear about — or maybe what I want to hear about is too arcane.

The best book by an editor I know is Ralph Rosenblum’s When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story, which covers work with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, William Friedkin… all very interesting personalities, and a lot of films which required really inventive work in the cutting room.

So I was excited to find a copy of Jim Clark’s memoir (written with John H Myers), Dream Repairman, Adventures in Film Editing. Like Rosenblum’s book, this covers its author and subject’s entire career up until retirement, only Clark is a Brit who has worked in America and Europe, his career only ending relatively recently due to health troubles (he was to have cut Rob Marshall’s Nine).

By his own account, Clark is quite an outspoken man (at one point he describes meeting Sean Penn, who asks him what he thought of INTO THE WILD. “It’s too long,” says Clark) so the fact that I don’t like a lot of the films he cut isn’t a problem. He doesn’t like them either. But he did cut a slew of films for John Schlesinger, some of which I like a lot, plus a few for Stanley Donen and a couple for Jack Clayton. His portrait of Clayton’s temperament enhances my understanding of this complex and not always pleasant man, adding to the raging furies I already knew about (you can’t really resent a man for throwing a chair through Barry Diller’s office window) a prodigious appetite for brandy and sodas and a penchant for sadistic practical jokes perhaps inherited from his time with John Huston.

Schlesinger could be equally explosive, but emerges as a lot more lovable (and one waits in vain for thunderbolts to strike down Madonna and Rupert Everett for humiliating him and practically killing him while making the wretched THE NEXT BEST THING. It’s very silly, but I do like Schlesinger’s nickname for his over-budget comedy disaster HONKY TONK FREEWAY, which he only ever referred to as WANKY WANK BUMHOLE.

(The book abounds in nicknames: we learn that Zeffirelli called C. Thomas Howell “Tea Towel” and Liz Taylor “thee beetch,” [which is, in fact, his name for all women], while the labs referred to Martha Fienne’s ONEGIN as “ONE GIN,” and Schlesinger’s affectionate/elitist name for the general public: “the sillies.”)

There’s not a huge amount about the craft of editing, which is admittedly difficult to illustrate on the page, though we do learn a lot about how at least a few of Robert DeNiro’s performances have been hewn together out of miles of wildly uneven material, since the actor often doesn’t learn his lines and feels his way through his scenes trying a wide variety of approaches, so that the editor makes most of the choices for him.

But Clark is an amiable host, and fabulously indiscrete: he prints a full-frontal picture of Marty Feldman, something I didn’t expect to see as I turned the page, lists the guests at a Hollywood party and then remarks that he was the only straight man present (the company included at least one major producer who has been known to get shirty when his personal life comes under the spotlight), and carelessly tosses off the following –

“It was known that Jimmy Woolf was homosexual, though just how active he was I never knew. He had a long liason with Laurence Harvey, now married, and was currently escorting Terence Stamp who was also in TERM OF TRIAL.”

I *think* the story is that Woolf liked nothing more than a handsome young man who would treat him very badly, so I don’t think this necessarily means what it seems to mean. But who knows? the charm of Clark’s book is that he’s out of that world now so he can more or less say anything he likes. Though increasingly tetchy about the levels of productorial interference in modern filmmaking, made possible by digital editing, he’s generally fair and affectionate to nearly all his collaborators, even when he’s mercilessly rubbishing the end product of some of these jobs.

Clark’s short stint as director is also covered — he did well to concentrate on editing, as these include the lamentable RENTADICK, which he still thinks is funny, and MADHOUSE, which was butchered by Milton Subotsky but is actually a bit better than he gives it credit for. It did result in a lifelong friendship with star Vincent Price, and through him to Coral Browne, who provides some good vulgar fun. I’ve long admired the anecdote about her rehearsing a play wearing a huge fur hat. When the director asked her if she was uncomfortable, she said “Yes, I feel as though I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

But Clark provides a story that’s positively heroic in its use of bawdiness in the face of death. Browne is dying of cancer and on a morphine drip. She’s asked if she’s hungry.

“Yes.”

“What would you like to eat.”

“A big cock.”

It’s not witty, exactly. But it somehow strikes me as encapsulating humanity at its finest.

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing

Bad to the Bone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2009 by dcairns

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THE SKULL, directed by ace cinematographer (and not-quite-so-ace director) Freddie Francis, will live in infamy as the film in which Peter Cushing plays Christopher Maitland and Christopher Lee plays Sir Matthew Phillips. The lovely, unusual, imaginative names (sarcasm alert) indicate precisely the kind of plywood bore Milton Subotsky’s script, from a story by Robert Bloch, is.

(That “is” doesn’t look right, all at the end there, does it?)

Through involved circumstances, Peter Cushing acquires the skull of the Marquis de Sade, which is apparently still animated by a malign intelligence. Cushing’s friendly rival, Lee, believes that the Marquis was “something worse than mad.” Hmm, worse than mad, you say? What would that be, Sir Matthew Phillips? Sane?

The titular head-bone has turned up in the possession of shady curio-hawker Patrick Wymark, an ambulatory Toby jug who guested in a number of ’60s horrorshows — REPULSION, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, WITCHFINDER GENERAL — and he would have undoubtedly done more save for his tragic implosion in 1970.  Wymark narrates the cranium’s tragic history, which allows the canny producer (Subotsky again) to slip in another guest star, George Coulouris. It becomes clear that Subotsky has written this thing with the sole purpose of shoehorning in as many guest stars as the screen’s fabric can contain without splitting like P.J. Proby’s trousers.

Soon, swivel-eyed detective Nigel Green and police surgeon Patrick Magee are on hand, Jill Bennett is wasted as Cushing’s dull wife (her impressive scream of horror is the only moment when the film reaps any benefit from her unique gifts) and the guy who did the voice of Pigsy in the dubbed Japanese TV show Monkeyturns up. Fiona felt this was the film’s only interest — “Seeing Pigsy’s body at last… perambulating about under its own will.”

I admired the way Francis generated visual interest even when there was zero dramatic interest. He’s aided by rich set decoration, which he foregrounds at every opportunity, padding out the film’s slender running time by filming Cushing as he reads a bio of Sade (bound in human skin, naturally) from every conceivable angle and from behind every bit of bric-a-brac in the room, sneaking from one occluding prop to another like a cautious Rodent Of Unusual Size.

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Having narcolysed the audience with this display of silent book-reading (although the attractive visuals prevent total somnolence), Francis then delivers a pointless-but-wonderful dream sequence in which Cushing is taken away by sinister “policemen” and driven towards an unknown destination.

Anxiously, Pete looks out the car window.

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Shops.

He tries the other side.

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Shops.

“We’ve had props, now we’re having shops,” observed Fiona.

“Next it’ll be cops,” I hazarded.

It was.

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The car stopped.

“And stops,” I concluded.

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Handsome in its widescreen colour cinematographer, and graced with the screwy “skull-cam” POV shots, the film nevertheless struggles to create any interest in any of its sluggish meanderings, and made us both nostalgic for Larry Blamire’s spoof THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, which has better, badder bad dialogue, and a talking skeleton. If Sade’s skull had spoken like the one in Blamire’s film, we might have had something. “Hi, Betty, it’s me — the skeleton!”

However, a lot of people enjoy this film, for its bountiful cast of supporting players (Subotsky often made compendium films, because with five or six stories there was more opportunity to grab a movie star like Chris Lee or Sylvia Sims or Herbert Lom for a day or two and bolster the marquee value — THE SKULL is like a compendium film with no story instead of five) and sumptuous visuals. The lack of forward momentum forces Francis to noodle inventively, coming up with crazy angles, sinuous camera moves, and lurid colours. Even at 82 minutes, the film feels heavily padded, but the padding is quality stuff.

(When Richard Lester accepted the job of directing his first feature, IT’S TRAD, DAD, for Subotsky, he was handed 23 typed pages, which he took to be a synopsis. It was the final draft script. Those were the days!)

Finally seeing this allowed me to tick off another film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. I’ve vowed to see every film depicted in this book before the end of the century.

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This is the still Gifford uses, although his is b&w. I think Cushing actually spent more time behind a magnifying glass than any other thespian — his various appearances as Sherlock Holmes aren’t the half of it. The gag in TOP SECRET! where he removes the magnifying glass to reveal that he really has one enormous eye makes more sense (although it’s still vaguely upsetting) when one bears this in mind.

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