Posted in FILM with tags , on November 21, 2018 by dcairns

I enacted a little vandalism on PEEPING TOM a while back, speculating on what Michael Powell’s voyeuristic monsterpiece would look like in b&w. Then I forgot about it, but I just thought of another film I’d like to decolourise, sort of.

Orson Welles, by the time of the film-within-the-film in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, had embraced colour and used it as boldly and beautifully as he did b&w. I think F FOR FAKE looks great too, and the fact that it’s a kind of patchwork/scrapbook allows for a wide variety of looks. THE IMMORTAL STORY, for me, never looked quite as good as it ought to. Some of this is Welles’s attempt to simulate Macao (a place he can’t even PRONOUNCE in LADY FROM SHANGHAI) in France and Spain on a limited budget. Some of it is Welles’s fairly terrible make-up, and some of it is Welles’s still getting to grips with colour cinematography. He DOES achieve some beautiful moments, and he’s certainly not afraid: see the image above. I just wondered if some of the film would look better in monochrome?

Nothing’s ever going to turn this into one of Welles’s better makeups, but I wince less when his nose putty is no longer blue. Oddly, the stippled rosacea on his cheeks looks more like redness in b&w, less like shading designed to heighten his cheekbones, so that’s an improvement too. And the pencilled wrinkles seem more subtle. The echoes of HEARTS OF AGE are quieted.



I originally thought the film looked fine, apart from Welles. Then I showed it to a friend with Indonesian connections and she was insulted by its lack of a sense of place. Welles was, in a way, trying to do a studio recreation of another land, but on location in the wrong land. It doesn’t bother me too much, but obviously it doesn’t give you what the real place could, OR what you’d get from a big budget imitation.


Welles’s packed compositions and deep focus are arguably more striking and effective in b&w. Just as Dutch tilts work better in the graphic medium of b&w than they do in colour, where you suddenly go from THE THIRD MAN to the Batman TV show.


But remember, the film does have shots like this:

We get hints of Mario Bava, CRIES AND WHISPERS and foreshadowings of MALPERTUIS. Apart from Welles’s “look,” I honestly wouldn’t want to change it.



True to Type

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 20, 2018 by dcairns

We watched Steven Spielberg’s THE POST and then moved on to its sequel, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN which, unusually for a sequel, was made forty years earlier. And it turned out to be the week screenwriter William Goldman died. ATPM is one of his best pieces, though he complained that writing it was very tough. It got him an Oscar, though, so that seems reasonable.

Comparing the two films was interesting. THE POST is solid stuff, as conventional as you’d expect from the Spielberg-Hanks-Streep teaming: “entertaining” is a very good word here. It has a certain forward impetus and there are nice bits of visual storytelling amid the gab and Spielberg’s skill at moving actors around as he moves his camera around is apparent. Hanks is fine, but no Jason Robards. Streep is great value. Alison Brie and Sarah Paulson are wasted but Bob Odenkirk gets some good business.

Kaminski shoots it in shades of gun-metal blue (not an obvious seventies look — more like DIE HARD) with the usual Spielberg God-light blasting over everyone’s shoulders but with crunchier blacks to point up all that clandestine power and subterfuge.

As a political response to the current times, it’s perhaps too polite, and you notice that when previous filmmakers like Pakula and company wanted to address the current situation, they addressed the current (or very recent) situation. They didn’t look back forty years for an peudo-analagous moment.

The great thing about a lot of seventies cinema is, it doesn’t seem to care if you’re watching. A friend said that about THE EXORCIST. Even THE EXORCIST, which wants to scare you, doesn’t really care if you’re watching or not. Your choice, it shrugs.


In THE POST, you can see the wheels go round: literally, with the fetishistic hot press shots of newspapers rolling out into the world. In ATPM, the source of dramatic tension is harder to place: in this one, typewriter keys descend from nowhere in abrupt, slamming ECU. The mechanism is concealed, off over there somewheres. Unlike Spielberg, Alan Pakula doesn’t seem to be trying to create tension, but there is nevertheless some crackling energy force underneath it all, created invisibly by the actors, the frame, the lighting.

I’m curious to look at Pakula’s later work for the Late Show Blogathon: I’m worried that he’ll have felt compelled to amp up the dramatics in his later thrillers, and I’m certain the scripts won’t be as good.

The secret wonder ingredient here is cinematographer Gordon Willis, who bonded with Pakula even more than with Coppola on THE GODFATHER — he seems to have shot nearly everything Pakula made (plus a bunch of key Woody Allens). He was a kind of Prince of Darkness, happy to let expensive sets and actors drop off into Stygian gloom if it served his sense of the scene. When he filmed car interiors, he let other cars serve as the light source, which meant the characters could cease to be visible even as outlines for long stretches or movie and road.

He doesn’t go looking for beauty: the Washington Post interior is as flat as it ought to be. But then he seizes passing opportunities for visual grace, and creates surprise with unexpected splashes of light, colour.

The tamped-down performances and low-key lighting are enhanced by David Shire’s muted score, so that nobody seems to be trying to make this a thriller, but everybody seems to be succeeding.

Poor old Goldman had to try to please the original authors, who were also the main characters, a star who was also the producer, another star who was Dustin Hoffman, and Pakula, who couldn’t make up his mind. It must have been a huge relief to him to realise he could cut the story off half way through, before it got to the part everybody watched unravel in the news. His script unfolds in a rash of names, names leading to more names, with ellipses used so boldly we fear we may not keep up. Maybe THAT’S the source of tension: our fear that we’re not equal to grasping Watergate. Thankfully, we have Deep Throat to keep us straight: “Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

This felt like a good film to be watching right now.

THE POST stars Forrest Gump, Florence Foster Jenkins, Bunny Yeager, Jimmy McGill, Gerald Burlingame and Unikitty.

ATPM stars Jeremiah Johnson, Ratso Rizzo, Max Corkle, Det. Milton Arbogast, Henry Northrup, Cable Hogue, Georgia O’Keeffe and Tector Crites, or do I mean Hoover Shoates?

When Diana Dors Ruled the Earth

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 19, 2018 by dcairns




I didn’t invent the title of this one. I want to say it was Peter Cook, but I can’t confirm this. Google stands helpless.