Archive for The Time Machine

Ants in Your Plants of 1954

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by dcairns

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Having enjoyed a re-viewing of George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE and found some things to enjoy in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, we wanted to check out more Pal productions. TOM THUMB wasn’t handy so we tried THE NAKED JUNGLE but couldn’t get through the damn thing.

This is the kind of film that used to be always on. Saturday night, alone and bored, I turn on the TV and there’s Chuckles Heston battling army ants with his fists and chin. The ant invasion is described as “forty square miles of agonizing death” but that’s a description better suited to the film itself.

Pal’s production, directed by former photographer and effects expert Byron Haskin, is matte paintings from the waist up. Various “natives” in shoe polish display various colonial stereotypes. The big threat, other than Heston’s obnoxious he-man characterisation, is the ant attack, only introduced halfway through but swiftly dominating everything and leaving the Eleanor Parker romance angle to bosom-heaving sighs on the sideline.

The screenwriters’ conceit is that marauding ants lay waste to everything in their path and can even skeletonize a man, in exactly the same way that piranhas can’t. As advance lookout, Chuckles selects a particularly fat native on the grounds that it will take the insects longer to devour him, but alas, being fat, dozy, and covered in shoe polish, he falls asleep on watch and gets eaten. Here I was looking forward to something equivalent to the faux time-lapse decaying Morlock in THE TIME MACHINE, but the movie gets all coy, not to mention cheap, on us, so all we get is the actor screaming “My eyes!” and then a shot of an empty suit on the floor. I was also hoping for puppetoon ants courtesy of Pal’s animator associates, even though that would be an INSANE amount of work.

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Fellow Shadowplayers, I was not disappointed — and yet I was. The puppetoon insects duly appear, stripping the leaves from a tree, but only for two shots. That’s not enough puppetoonery for a feature film. I would even have accepted those annoying elves from BROS. GRIMM, as long as Chuck could have punched their stupid lopsided faces in.

What a Wonderful World

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2014 by dcairns

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Lost and gone, lost and gone, as the spectral “jury of the damned” intone in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. And so it is with THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, directed by George Pal and Henry Levin. While the other Cinerama feature, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON have enjoyed restorations and blu ray releases, this one may never be seen in the form intended or any digital approximation thereof, since the elements have not shown up anywhere. Collectors gathered bits and pieces from around the world and were able to screen a patched-together, Frankenstein’s monster print, with the three different panels of the giant Cinerama frame consisting of different bits in different conditions, varying from near-pristine to lamentable — and a couple of seconds of the thing got destroyed in that screening.

It’s not the tragedy it would be if the film was as good as Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which still holds up beautifully. Pal’s weakness for flat, TV lighting, and his uncertainty with script and gags, hold this one back considerably. The plot in the framing structure consists of a wearisome romance between one Grimm Brother and Barbara Eden, and the financial woes and employment troubles of the pair of them. This is a startlingly dull premise for a roadshow family picture, and the last half hour, when a happy ending has been all but guaranteed, is a life-sapping ordeal.

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Also, the elves are horrible, charmless things. Worse than Oompa-loompas.

But here are some flaws that don’t matter: one brother is German (Karlheinz Boehm from PEEPING TOM, prompting me to cry “Tell us the one about your magic camera!”) and the other is Lithuanian with an English accent (Laurence Harvey, very good in a role which requires warmth and a childlike quality, both of which you might think are entirely outside his range but NO); two directors, but in fact Levin, brought in to handle the serious parts, is no better at drama or extreme-wide-screen decoupage than Pal, so their virtues and inadequacies blend seamlessly; European and American actors generally mingled randomly — it’s a melting pot, so what?; the stop start of a framing narrative continually interrupted by fantasy fairy tale sequences – since the framework is mainly a drag, the interruptions are ALWAYS WELCOME.

And here are the virtues ~

A great stop-motion dragon, more cartoony than anything Harryhausen would dream of presenting, but perfect for the tone of this show. He breathes cartoon flames, too.

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The whole Russ Tamblyn section, which makes exhilarating use of the star’s athleticism and only makes you wish somebody had cast him in a Keatonesque thrill comedy at feature length. Fun perf from Jim Backus as a kind of King Magoo (“You’re just a princess, whereas I’m a king, which is better.”) And we finally discover a reason for Yvette Mimieux: she dances beautifully.

The singing bone. It has a spooky, vocoder voice and it sings about being dead. And it once belonged to Buddy Hacket’s shin.

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Some effective use of the wide frame, for rushing movements, and dance, and spectacle. And some very weird uses, like fast pans which make the screen ripple as if it were being projected on Miles Mander’s ribcage. Peculiar shots where each character is in a different part of the cine-triptych, acting in his own little world, and doesn’t seem to be looking at the others, due to the fisheye type distortion of the three lenses looking at the action from different directions. See here for delirious examples from other films.

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Fever dream with fantasy characters, genuinely trippy. Best fever hallucination feeling outside of THE TENANT. Although see also the Mirkwood scenes in HOBBIT II.

The sad thing is that people demand perfection from their restorations. I have no doubt that a version of TWWOTBG could be assembled with much tidier joins between the panels, but there would still be visible flaws, some of them glaring, and so there’s no will to embark on such a project.

The ’68 Comeback Special: Je T’Aime, Je T’aime

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 24, 2013 by dcairns

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It was probably inevitable that Alain Resnais would make a film about time travel, just as it was inevitable that Nic Roeg would do psychic visions and make a scene where a man’s life flashes before his eyes and Tinto Brass would do a scene where a woman rides a bicycle with her bottom out. Some things cannot be avoided forever.

And he chose a perfect title, with its suggestion of a needle skipping on Serge Gainsbourg. His film is excellent. I read about it as a teenager in books about science fiction, none of which seemed to like it very much. It seemed they wanted to like it — they liked LA JETTEE, and they liked the idea of an arthouse filmmaker treating science fiction ideas respectfully — but they couldn’t quite get along with this one. Perhaps because its science fiction premise becomes a pretext for exploring a man’s life, so that it’s barely science fiction at all?

That was disappointment was echoed by my own first feeling on seeing a fuzzy bootleg of the film twenty-odd years after first hearing about it. But having just watched it again in a more pristine version (though with somewhat incomplete fan-subs), my admiration for the film is practically boundless. It perhaps helps that I just enjoyed PROVIDENCE, newly restored, at the Lumiere Festival in Lyon, so I was in the mood for A.R.’s mysteries of time.

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The film’s central image, the big bulbous, baggy time machine, a Roger Dean living space or an internal organ rejected by the design committee, was familiar to me from those sci-fi guides. It’s not quite plausible as something the movie’s white-coats would have built, is it? But then, would Rod Taylor have the joinery and upholstering skills to create THE TIME MACHINE? Sometimes beauty is its own excuse.

Claude Rich (where have I seen him? Ah yes, that Jane Fonda film recently about aging friends living together — his face has time-traveled out of all recognition but his smile retains the same blissed-out tranquility) plays a failed suicide recruited by the Crespel Institute for their dangerous experiment — using a drug, T5, and a strange padded, organic enclosure/machine, they plan to send him into his own past for one minute. Planning on re-suiciding at the earliest opportunity, Claude doesn’t mind obliging them. But the experiment goes awry and he finds himself free-falling through his own memories, reliving his recent life (the last seven years or so) in jumbled fragments, a helpless passenger in events he cannot change. Accompanied by a white mouse.

Alternative titles for JE T’AIME, JE’ T’AIME –

SNORKEL LOOP. THE SPONGY MACHINE. THE GLASGOW HORROR. BEACH MOUSE. TIME’S BEAN BAG.

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What’s THIS guy’s story? One of a number of surreal images that pop up, suggesting a breakdown not only of time, but reality itself. Or that the character is traveling not into time, but into his memories, which include odd subjective impressions and fantasies.

Resnais starts the film jagged, jumping forward in time to keep the story propelling us ever on — this relentless plot-thrust will soon be warped into a fragmented mosaic of sideways branching paths, just as rapid but more disorientating. It’s a little scary, as we share the hero’s loss of control and lack of any sense of direction.

The director also holds back on close-ups of his hero for the first few scenes, even when shooting fairly tight shots of the people he talks to: he withholds the expected reverse angle and goes back to the master instead. And this pattern sort of repeats when we first meet the tragic Catherine (Olga-Georges Picot), his girlfriend. It’s ages before we get a proper look at her (she’s beautiful).

He also holds back on letting us believe in the psychologically reality of Olga’s depression and Claude’s death-wish. It seems at first that they’re rather too chic to suggest inner dimensions of despair. But as the movie goes on, both get moments that are convincingly tragic. At the same time, there’s a kind of murder mystery — something terrible has happened in Glasgow (nothing too surprising there) — and the suspense as to whether Claude will escape the folds of time in which he is entangled, all while sunk in a sort of leathery beanbag, listening to Penderecki in a computerized brain room.

It’s all circling back to Glasgow, where something terrible happened. I was very excited to see what Resnais’s portrayal of Scotland’s second city would be like. In the end, we see a dark, gas-heated room with gloomy tartan curtains. This seems to me a fairly accurate portrayal of Glasgow, or about 50% of it. The other 50% is outdoors, and worse.

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Resnais’s film has been rather hard to see, which is a shame, because while it’s neither MARIENBAD nor MURIEL, it’s rather excellent, one of the most original science fiction movies of the sixties (even if it gradually replaces the logic of science fiction with the logic of poetry or dream) and a worthy companion either to Chris Marker’s more celebrated take on temporal displacement, or to Resnais’ OTHER white mouse picture, MON ONCLE D’AMERIQUE

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