Archive for Ridley Scott

Children of a Messier God

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by dcairns

It’s Prometheus! Hello, Prometheus! (From MACISTE IN HELL)

I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible while discussing PROMETHEUS, but if you want to see the film with totally fresh eyes, you’re better off not reading anything about it until afterwards, aren’t you?

Although, once you’ve seen it, you’ll be struck by how it’s largely a remake of the original ALIEN — the same story beats, but with interesting / horrific variations. The whole thing is put over with great style, and is very exciting and icky and everything you’d want it to be. Really, it not only acts as if the last two ALIENS films didn’t happen, it mainly ignores James Cameron’s highly-regarded sequel also, and certainly there’s no loose talk of the PREDATOR crossovers. This is, essentially, a prequel/replay of Scott’s original monster movie.

I like Marc Steitenfeld’s music, which continues the fine tradition of terror honking exemplified by SHUTTER ISLAND, but does so much more — including presenting a nice sombre religious grandeur theme, which plays in all sorts of unexpected scenarios.

The best way to talk about it, giving teasers rather than spoilers — might be in the form of a broken radio transmission –

KRRZZZT!

– Begins in Scotland! (where BATTLESHIP ends!) –

– very ALIENS-like spacecraft design –

– very 2001 interiors, continuing the ALIEN series’ odd conceit that as we get further into the future, everything gets danker and rattier –

– “Weyland” — mythic reference, but can’t work out signif –

– Skull Island sphinx statue –

– for once, Fassbender’s penis not largest serpentine organ on view –

– not only watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 3D, but dying his hair to look like O’Toole –

– in old age make-up FOR NO REASON –

– BRRZT! –

– guy getting all Crocodile Hunter with newly discovered alien species. Not smart –

– actors hitting their character’s single dimensions as HARD as they can: “Stupidity with confidence” –

–can’t believed they showed this IN THE TRAILER –

– kzzt!

One of the film’s strangest pleasures for me was the appearance of Kate Dickie, a Scots actress of some standing, who seems rather out of place — not because we can’t accept Scots on a spaceship — there’s Scottie, after all — but because I think she’s struggling with the American dialogue, which is very clipped and snappy, while her delivery is very emphatic and precise (while still in a very broad accent) — this might not be an issue for non-Scots, but I can assure you I’ve never heard anybody talk like this, ever. I suspect the idea was to keep the authentic accent but ensure clarity by stressing everything quite hard and leaving clear spaces between each word — whereas everybody knows that Scots communicate in a succession of continuous vowels. This is like a cross between Scots and morse code.

There’s also the fact that Noomi Rapace is delightfully Swedish, but in a dream-flashback she has an English accent as a child, which fits her character name, Elizabeth Shaw (deep space chocolatier!) but is a little puzzling. Couldn’t they have changed the character name and hired a Swedish child?

This is obviously Erich Von Daniken year — the comparative mythology Was God an Astronaut? stuff here (which serves the same role as the distress signal/warning in ALIEN) also turns up in JOHN CARTER — and would’ve been central to Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS if that had happened.

What might frustrate some fans is the fact that the film doesn’t really set out to provide answers to the new questions it poses, though it does give information about the nature of the “Space Jockey” species found dead in ALIEN, and the origins of the titular creature itself. Those are questions that nobody really needed answers to, so the new mysteries we’re left with are much more intriguing. And I kind of hope they remain unanswered, but I guess there’s little chance of that — there’ll be a 2010-style sequel along sooner or later to explain everything to death.

We went with our friends Kim and Egg, and Egg was freaked to see that the geologist character looks exactly like the first geologist he ever met (and it’s quite a distinctive look: shaved ginger tattooed head and goatee). Do all geologists look like this?

King Lear in space” was how Fiona described one set of characters, who introduce a theme of age and succession. “Rupert Murdoch in space,” was how I described it. I can’t think why else they cast an Australian and then covered him in old age makeup. Given that this is a Fox film, it does suggest that old Rupert is losing touch with his empire…

I enjoyed this movie and may write more on it when there’s less fear of spoilers.

Hopefully that wasn’t too spoilery, but I make no promises about the comments section. Though it’d be nice if folks keep it misty re major plot points.

Skungpoomery, Part II

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting, Science, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2011 by dcairns

Skungpoomery is the art of making up a word, then making up a meaning for it, then doing that thing. For instance, I’m tentringersinging — singing the praises of Ken “Prettyboy Tentringer” Campbell. (In the same way as Philip = Great Equestrian in Greek and Dick = Fat in German, allowing Philip K Dick to adopt the pseudonym Horselover Fat, so Kenneth Campbell called himself Prettyboy Tentringer and I can call myself Lovey Rockpiles.)

Ken Campbell’s Hail Eris! had what I take to be the desired effect on me — I was amazed, amused, taken to a strange place. The world was made bigger. And the evening was not over. The play was followed by a spectacular promenade up the Royal Mile to another tiny venue, where Neil Oram was doing his own monologue, also under the auspices of the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. Oram was the author of Campbell’s follow-up play to Illuminatus!, The Warp – at 22 hours, the world’s longest play. The Warp had played Edinburgh, in the old Regent Cinema, and I think I remember seeing the posters, but I was too young to see it (although I would have been older by the time it had finished a single marathon performance).

Now, if Campbell was clearly an eccentric, Oram qualified as half-mad, but in what seemed a benign, attractive way. His tale was one of consciousness expansion, from eating the cotton wool out of nasal decongestants in Soho in the fifties, to the banks of Loch Ness in the now (where his drug of choice appears to be PCP, or “rape smack”, later described by Campbell with some despair as “injecting chemicals intended for veterinary purposes into his muscles”). Campbell and Oram’s spiky relationship was obviously enjoying a warmer spell — the difference in their personae was defined by Oram as “I was, and still am, on a spiritual mission. Ken was on some kind of power trip.” Campbell put it differently — “I don’t think you should believe anything. Anyone who starts out by saying ‘I believe -‘ is usually a right berk. So you shouldn’t believe anything. But you should SUPPOSE — everything!”

After Hail Eris! I made a point of checking out every play Campbell directed in Edinburgh. Some of these don’t even rate a mention in the new biography, so I want to describe a little of what I remember here –

Memories of Amnesia — a monologue-play, based on the novel by Lawrence Shainberg, about a brain surgeon who awakens one morning unable to recall his wife’s name. Diagnosing himself as afflicted by a tumour, he resolves to self-operate with the aid of local anaesthetic, one assistant (his wife) and an arrangement of mirrors. This is all technically quite possible. Disturbing and funny, the play used absolutely minimal props (a melon stood in for the afflicted head) and a bare stage. The character muses on the history of brain-mapping, whereby fully-conscious patients had their heads opened and little electric shocks applied to parts of the brain to see what happens. If you get some motor neurons, an arm or a leg might move. If it’s a psychic region, the character will suddenly re-experience a memory: “It’s my Mum coming up the hill.” Once areas have been identified, little flags on pins, colour-coordinated to the various functions, are stuck into the brain tissue. It’s like a military campaign.

As the story progresses, the character refers to his wife as “what’s-her-name” and then by a wide variety of names beginning with “J”, until the end, just as he’s about to experience a seizure in mid-operation and spasmodically tear out his own brain, he refers to her as “Janet”…”Janet! THAT’S her fucking name!”

Wish I could remember the actor who played the part, he was great.

Campbell’s plays often fed into his later TV science presenting work, and so Memories of Amnesia carried the seeds that would blossom into Brainspotting.

Then there was Schlatzer’s Bouquet — some movie relevance here, since this dealt with Marilyn Monroe and the conspiracy theories around her death. Campbell’s friend Jeff Merrifield was the author, and the play featured both David Rarraport’s brother (a man with impressive eye-baggage, almost as striking as Campbell’s bushy brows) and Pauline Bailey, a professional Monroe impersonator, playing herself. Campbell had a history of incorporating “real people” into his productions, since anything that puts the wind up the actors was considered positive. The play incorporated several Photo Opportunities, in which Bailey would pose while members of the audience took pictures with disposable fun cameras sold on the premises. There was a prize for the best one.

My favourite part of the show was the opening — Rappaport appears on stage dressed as a stagehand, moving boxes around. An audience member hurries in.

“What time does the show start?” he asks.

“7,” says Rappaport.

Pause. “It’s two minutes past 7 now,” the audience member points out.

“Then it’s started.”

When I came to make my short film CLARIMONDE, set entirely in one room, with a nod to REAR WINDOW, I deliberately wrote in the character of Inspector Childers, who appears only via the telephone or behind doors. My logic was that I could get a Dream Actor to play the part, since it was entirely audio and could be recorded in twenty minutes, tops. When it emerged that Campbell was coming to Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre to do his Bald Trilogy all in one go, I contacted him via his agent and asked if he was up for it. He was!

Taken all together, the three Bald monologues must amount to about four and a half hours. Campbell began his marathon by telling the audience. “To be quite honest, while I’d definitely do what I’m doing… I’m not sure I’d do what you’re doing…”

Buy the book! Campbell’s stories take in movie-related stuff like the mysterious goings on in the Middle-East segment of THE EXORCIST, Fortean stuff like synchronicity, mysterious disappearances and invisibility, autobiography, outright lies, and the benefits of translating Ken Dodd comedy routines into pidjin English as spoken in the Southern Hebrides. Consistently funny and mind-popping stuff.

In the intermission between Furtive Nudist and Pigspurt, or, Six Pigs from Happiness, I went to the green room with my intrepid sound recordist Kiyo and Fiona, and we taped Ken’s role in CLARIMONDE. This may be where I told him cartoonist Gary Panter’s line: “Our eyes are just parts of our brain that have grown to the outside to have a look around,” which he liked so much he repeated it several times, committing it to memory. I wonder if he ever sprang it on anyone?

My longest conversation with Campbell was in a pub, probably around 2000/01. Because it was in a pub, I don’t remember too much of it, except that Ken was in monologue mode and did most of the talking, which was fine. His dislike of BLADE RUNNER came up, since he felt the film was untrue to Philip K Dick — he was certainly right in that the melancholy, underpopulated feel of Dick’s novel, and his work in general, is entirely subsumed by Ridley Scott’s cold, bright/dark vision. Scott hadn’t even read the novel, finding it “too dense.” Scott has a magnificent eye, but one does sometimes wonder if there’s anything behind it.

Campbell was, however, enthused about the idea of Steven Spielberg doing MINORITY REPORT, while I was more skeptical. I think I was right, but I never got to find out what Ken thought of it. I imagine Campbell admired Spielberg’s showmanship, because he was a great one for wonderment and astonishment, but I’d say Spielberg’s visual sense of wonder and Dick’s narrative/existential/intellectual outrages don’t really match. My recipe for making MINORITY REPORT both a successful Dick adaptation and a proper scifi-noir (which is how Spielberg pitched it) would be to chop the last 45 minutes and end on the tragedy of Cruise realizing why he’s going to be guilty of a stranger’s murder… A better, darker ending that SE7EN!

I was excited that synchronicity, such a major force in Campbell’s life and work, had show her silvery hand again in my casting of him in CLARIMONDE shortly before he became interested in the heretical history of the Cathars, including Esclarimonde of Foix. Campbell shrugged this off — this kind of coincidence was clearly nothing compared to what he was used to. (I was also thrilled to hear the spectral radio in Cocteau’s ORPHEE announce “A glass of water illuminates the world,” which contains the phrase “clairement le monde”
which sounds like “Clarimonde” with a stutter. The film got kicked off by the fact that the name appears both in Hanns Heinz Ewers’ The Spider and in Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoreuse, both of which have Cathar undertones…

Of Campbell’s later projects, I watched his several science series avidly, although they did not quite reach the heights of undiluted Campbell — but they informed his other work, notably Mystery Bruises / Violin Time, another amazing monologue. I missed his pidjin Macbeth, which sounds mouth-watering and mind-watering, but I did see a production of his improvised Shakespeare with the School of Night. According to Campbell, the true secret of Shakespeare’s authorship is that his plays were made up by the actors. To prove this shaky hypothesis, supposed rather than believed, Ken began leading a troupe of players in marathon sessions of iambic pentameter improv, discovering that “The iambs only really kick in around the thirteenth hour,” or words to that effect.

In the show, whose stated aim was to ultimately, by the end of its run, reconstruct a lost Shakespeare play, the actors did the usual improv thing of taking suggestions from the audience. Ken acted as onstage director and goad, mercilessly critiquing the improvs. The show also reintroduced the ancient idea of the four bodily humours as a way of informing performance, and at one point Ken berated and audience member for paying insufficient attention, “Not like her!” he said, pointing out the wide-eyed Fiona next to me.

Ken with Doris and some bad editing.

Finding Campbell’s work in Edinburgh was always a bit difficult — it was rarely listed under his name, unless it was a one-man show. Often I’d turn up without really knowing what I was going to get, as when Fiona and I discovered the genius of Nina Conti, girl ventriloquist, who Campbell had already discovered and turned on to the joys of the vent act. Here’s a bit ~

Conti’s debut was a full ventriloquial play, exploring the link between ventriloqism and demonic possession, ending with the actress’s backside becoming possessed.

Anyway, as a result of this elusiveness I only saw Campbell’s penultimate fringe show through the aid of a friend who spotted it, and I missed entirely his last show, which I’ll always regret. Still, more footage of Campbell will be wending it’s way onto YouTube, and there are unproduced film scripts which maybe I could get my hands on… Plus, I have a VHS of his production of Whores of Babylon at the National Theatre. Here’s a sampler –

Mac McDonald, leader of the colony in ALIENS and captain of the Red Dwarf, explains how TV news works to keep us fearful. The ideas are influences by Milton Shulman, plus a dash of Robert McKee, whose eyebrows Capbell identified with. He offered to do a complete rendering of McKee’s screenwriting seminars for half the price at the college where I teach — alas, I wasn’t in a position to accept.

Michael Coveney’s excellent Campbell biography, which got me started on this, begins with the Great Man’s death, like CITIZEN KANE. Or his funeral, anyway — a magnificent arboreal affair with a cardboard coffin drawn on a sled by dogs. Most life stories sound better backwards. Campbell’s life story perhaps works best in fragments — he created anecdotes wherever he went, on his mission to astound the world into apprehension.

That’s a beautiful headstone. I wonder who carved it? In the interests of narrative neatness, it’d be the retired policeman who carved the wooden necktie used by Ken onstage (wielded like a dagger). At any rate, it’s beautiful, and the emptiness at the centre expresses the loss of the great caperer.

Images stolen from the Facebook group Ken Campbell Changed My Life.

Blow your mind by buying these –

The Bald Trilogy: “Recollections of a Furtive Nudist”, “Pigspurt” – or “Six Pigs from Happiness”, “Jamais Vu” (Modern Plays)

Violin Time (Methuen Modern Plays)

Dwarf Stars

Posted in FILM with tags , , on July 14, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-510126The Space Jockey.

So, this is the very excellent story Shadowplayer Paul Duane told me about ALIEN. Hope it’s true.

According to the story, ALIEN, although a relatively big movie, had a tight budget, which seemed to spell disaster when somebody in the design department made a slip-up. Either the plans for the alien planet were misread, or they contained a misprint, but anyhow the sets were constructed at about a third of the intended size. Picture the mini-Stonehenge in THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

Ridley Scott was apoplectic. In space, they may not be able to hear you scream, but you could hear Ridley swearing all over Pinewood. It was like the miniature stonehenge in SPINAL TAP. Useless. And already built — there wasn’t the money to make them over.

“We are fucked!” screamed Scott.

An assistant art director art department runner did some quick thinking. “Waitaminute, waitaminute…”

Scott glowered.

“They’re in space suits, right?” offered the assistant.

Scott swore some more. What was the man blithering about?

“So, couldn’t we get… midgets?”

vlcsnap-507754

And indeed, it was cheaper to hire a few little people, and build some smaller spacesuits, than to reconstruct all the sets.

Seems reasonable. Paul also noted that the assistant art director, or whoever it was, followed Scott onto subsequent projects and was promoted. He earned it.

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