Timehorse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 31, 2015 by dcairns

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LE TEMPS DE MOURIR (1970) is one I started for Seventies Sci-Fi week but didn’t finish quickly enough. Despite some shaky direction — first timer Andre Farwagi hadn’t learned the 180º rule yet — I was sufficiently intrigued by the basic plot premise to finish watching, and was reasonably glad I did.

Anna Karina starts the movie by riding her horse into a tree, She’s rescued by millionaire Bruno Cremer, who is startled to discover in her possession a video recorder showing him being shot by a man he doesn’t know (but we know him: it’s Jean Rochefort!). Both Karina, who has total amnesia of the kind only available in sensational fiction, and the tape appear to have come from the future. With the aid of bodyguard Billy Kearns (one of the detectives in Welles’ THE TRIAL, speaking execrable French), Cremer tries to find out why a total stranger is apparently going to kill him on camera.

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What nobody, including the writers, explore, is how Karina time-traveled back from the end of the film to the beginning. She’s a one-woman Moebius strip, apparently existing only in this temporal loop, her memory erasing itself as her life circles eternally round. This is actually the film’s most intriguing element, and it’s left to the audience to explore it after the story is over. Nobody in the movie gets a chance.

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Is Anna Karina’s horse a time machine?

I was very taken with Cremer’s home computer, a tinted plastic face, illuminated from behind, set into the wall. I would like a computer like that.

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Farwagi’s career has been quite sporadic. His next production was in 1978, a sexy girl school romp with Nastassja Kinski, LEIDENSCHAFTLICHE BLUMCHEN, which I watched on late-night TV as a teenager in hopes of nudity. I was not disappointed: Farwagi opens the film with a zoom out from a close-up of a tit. Probably influenced by Kubrick.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bava Lava

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2015 by dcairns

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I’m finally reading Tim Lucas’s magisterial Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. I can’t fault the scholarship — few filmmakers are lucky enough to get books as exhaustive and considered and respectful as this. It’s all the sweeter since Bava was such an underrated artisan in his lifetime.

I wouldn’t dare to contest Lucas’ unparalleled expertise in this subject, but one little bit where I think he’s not quite right gave me an idea for today’s piece.

The book not only examines Bava’s directorial legacy, it probes into his work as cinematographer, and also provides as full an account of the career of his father, Eugenio Bava, cinematographer and visual effects artist of the silent era. Lucas examines the legendary CABIRIA, whose effects are jointly ascribed to Bava Snr. and the great Segundo de Chomon. Chomon usually gets most of the credit, and Lucas thinks this is probably unfair — he claims Chomon’s effects “were usually rooted in the principles of stop-motion animation.” In fact, I think it’s going to be impossible to make any calls on who did what, other than that we are told Bava Snr. built the model Vesuvius. Chomon’s imitations of Georges Melies’ style saw him performing every kind of trick effect known to the age, to which he added the innovation of stop motion, cunningly integrated into live action sequences. I think it’s fair to say than any of the effects in CABIRIA might have been the work of either man.

Lucas goes on to focus on one spectacular shot of the erupting volcano, a composite in which the bubbling miniature shares screen space with a line of fleeing extras and sheep (do the sheep know they’re fleeing? Perhaps they’re just walking). Lucas notes that smoke pots in the foreground, placed near the extras, waft fumes up across the model volcano, which makes him think the shot could not have been achieved as a matte effect. He deduces that the volcano was filmed through a sheet of angled glass, one corner of which was brightly lit to reflect the extras.

I would suggest that the shot is in fact a pure double exposure, with no mattes. The volcano is dark apart from the bright lava. The shot of the extras is also dark apart from the extras, sheep, and smoke. Double exposed on the same negative, the bright parts register and the black parts stay black. Thus the white smoke can drift up through the frame, appearing transparently over both the darkness and the bubbling Bava-lava.

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More examples of this effect: at the end of Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, two characters fly off into the sky. The highlights on their figures cut through the superimposed cloudscape, but the shadow areas become transparent, phantasmal, in a way I don’t think the filmmakers intended; and in CITIZEN KANE, Welles crossfades slowly into flashback, with Joseph Cotten remaining solidly visible long after his background has disappeared, a trick achieved by fading the lighting down on the set while keeping Cotten brightly lit — no matte was needed, and had Cotten puffed on one of those cigars he was talking about, the smoke could have drifted across the incoming scenery, provided a sidelight picked it out of the darkness.

Lucas’s reflection trick, a kind of Pepper’s Ghost illusion, would have anticipated the more refined Schufftan effect by more than a decade (Eugen Schüfftan used mirrors to combine miniatures with full-scale action within the same, live shot on METROPOLIS) and Lucas suggests that Mario Bava resented this claiming of an invention his father had anticipated, and makes his disapproval known by including a character called Schüftan in his movie KILL, BABY, KILL. Since I don’t believe Eugenio anticipated Eugen in this technique, I think we can say that the use of the name Schüftan for the film’s heroine is more of an affectionate tribute to a great cinematographer, effects artist and a near-namesake of his dad.

Quibbles aside, I repeat: this is an amazing book.

Why George Lucas Has No Penis

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2015 by dcairns

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As a coda to Seventies Sci-Fi Week-and-a-Half, here’s a piece I wrote ages ago and then didn’t post because it was too mean, and its subject is a rich and powerful man. On re-reading it, I decided it’s not that mean and its subject isn’t really its subject — it’s a kind of parody of the style of Professor Joseph Slade, whose article “Bernard Natan, France’s Legendary Pornographer” cast him as chief villain in NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I collaborated on (which also features crooked businessmen and Nazis, so Slade had to work hard to attain the top spot). The game is “psychoanalyse a moviemaker based on his work” — inferring all sorts of offensive assumptions on slender textual evidence. So I hope Mr. Lucas will see the funny side and not sic the assassination wing of Industrial Light and Magic on my ass.

***

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Exhibit A.

I don’t want you to misconstrue from the title of the post, or any of the many bad things I say in it, that this is an anti-Lucas screed. It’s more about examining George‘s immortal creation, the original STAR WARS, to see how it is in fact a coded cri-de-coeur from a man who wants to be virile and thrusting, to satisfy women, to have a penis, and yet cannot do any of these things, because he doesn’t have a penis.

Exhibit B: the light sabre. When Mel Brooks spoofed this peculiar weapon in SPACEBALLS (a title calculated to appeal to the untesticled Lucas), it wasn’t particularly funny, perhaps because the sight of Bill Pullman miming the act of clutching a long, luminous erection somehow doesn’t inspire hilarity, only a queasy urge to withdraw from the vicinity as soon as possible. But also because the joke is too obvious — and I don’t mean in the sense that all dick jokes are, by definition, obvious, I mean that the light sabre is already a naked phallic symbol impossible to parody. In terms of physics, it makes no sense — it’s apparently made of light, yet the beam comes to a dead halt just when you need it to, and it’s solid. And from the way they swing them around, it looks like it has a little weight too. What else is solid, comes to a dead halt when you need it to, and has a little weight? Of course: a penis.

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Exhibit C: Darth Vader. Authors automatically project onto their villains their own undesirable qualities. In Peter Pan, Captain Hook is frequently described as “impotent” by J.M. Barrie, and the pirate’s missing limb is a clear metaphor for his sexual deficiency. Vader on the one hand, like everybody else in the STAR WARS universe, represents Lucas‘ craving for an aura of powerful masculinity: he is large and imposing, he has a light sabre, he has a black man’s voice like Barry White, and his heavy breathing suggests a state of permanent physical arousal. But it also suggests acute asthma, and it is here that Darth’s status as a disabled war veteran reveals Lucas‘ secret anxiety about his masculinity.

His name is a thinly-veiled reconstruction of the words “death invader” and he is an intrusion of the thanatic, anti-life principle into the living world. As a result, Vader is not sexually active, and when faced with a desirable woman, in his power, Vader chooses to attack her with a surrogate robot, armed only with a tiny needle. This reveals Lucas‘ subconscious anxiety that his tiny penis, if he has one, which he definitely doesn’t, is too small.

(Some may suggest that Vader feels no sexual desire for Princess Leia because she’s his daughter, but in fact this is not so. She’s not his daughter in the first film because Lucas had not yet written the other films at the time he made it. He hadn’t even started pretending that he had written the other five — or is it eight? — films.)

Exhibit D: R2-D2. Although the long, shiny C3-PO and the short, buff R2, like many comic double acts, represent a kind of analog of the human penis and scrotum, it is in R2’s electronic interface shaft that we see again Lucas‘ longing for a penis he can call his own. A kind of plug, jack, or cable (all words with sexual significance), R2’s mechanical member allows him to sexually violate other machines, including even the all-powerful Death Star. Though small and inarticulate, like Lucas, R2 possesses the power, unlike Lucas, to make things happen with his ding-a-ling. In one famous scene, he sticks it in the Death Star and forces her destructive, vagina dentata gnashers to release the trapped heroes who have unwisely ventured down the garbage disposal shaft which represents the Death Star’s vulva.

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Exhibit E: the climax. At the climax of the film Lucas made which he called STAR WARS, not A NEW HOPE, we get a flurry of erotic symbolism so insistent as to be almost dizzying. The death star attempts to assume the phallic role by planning to shoot a laser cannonade at Yavin, a green, Gaia-like world representing the life principle. To prevent this, a whole fleet of phallic spacecraft are launched, each with its own X-rating in the form of criss-cross wings replacing the testicles.

The goal of these craft is to turn the Death Star into a big space vagina and penetrate it, thus “fucking it up.” They do this first by diving into a groove on the satellite’s surface, then firing a so-called “proton torpedo” into its “cooling shaft”. All while R2 sits directly behind Luke, stimulating his prostate with that computerized dildo attachment of his.

I have said that this is a mechanized version of sexual intercourse, but what it more closely resembles is the act of fertilisation. The Death Star is an egg and the X-wing fighters are sperm, swimming together in a race to penetrate the ovum. The fact that in this case, the goal achieved leads to a big explosion and thousands of deaths probably reflects Lucas‘ neurotic anxieties, but on the other hand, the destruction of the death star saves Yavin, and so billions of lives on the fecund world are saved.

Lucas‘ cast of characters are mostly sexually dysfunctional or incapable of maintaining an erection. Ben Kenobi is an elderly Englishman, as is the Grand Moff Tarkin. Luke Skywalker delivers his first line of dialogue in a shrill, pansified falsetto. C3-PO and Chewbacca have noapparent generative organs of any kind, and Princess Leia is a woman.

In Lucas‘s predominantly metallic, sterile universe, the only truly virile human is Han Solo, who doesn’t need to surround himself with phallic symbols.

His blaster is of no more than standard size, his space-ship looks more like a cake than anything else, and he is so secure in his masculinity that he travels around with a shaggy beast, just like Clint Eastwood in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE. Though his name strongly implies the act of masturbation, Han Solo is obviously a sexual conquistador of awesome dexterity. Chewbacca, Han’s “co-pilot” (read: fuck-buddy) is a savage male artifact in his own right, but his name (chewing tobacco) signifies his true role, as a lovable Walter Brennan sidekick with whom Han can, if he wishes, enjoy vigorous bouts of recreational sex.

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Just imagine him flanked by two Ewoks.

The top ten sexual innuendos of STAR WARS, via Strange Places.

1. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
2. “Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough!”
3. “Look at the size of that thing!”
4. “Sorry about the mess…”
5. “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.”
6. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
7. “You’ve got something jammed in here real good.”
8. “Put that thing away before you get us all killed!”
9. “Luke, at that speed do you think you’ll be able to pull out in time?”
10. “Get in there you big furry oaf, I don’t care *what* you smell!”

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