Archive for December 5, 2007

“The worst Steadicam ever.”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2007 by dcairns

Elton John video “I Want Love” shot by Seamus McGarvey, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, starring Robert Downey Jnr.

And of course it’s not Steadicam at all, it’s straight handheld, brilliantly done. And I think the subtle shakiness adds to the beauty, as does Downey’s eerie unblinking performance, with his lips failing to really move on the word “love”…

And am I crazy or is it actually quite a nice song?

Anyhow, an inflatable helium-filled lighting unit, and lots of electricians grabbing lights and running out of shot with them as RD Jnr wanders a deserted L.A. mansion on a brief outing from prison. Enjoy!

The Nose on the Mantelpiece.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2007 by dcairns

The very lovely Seamus McGarvey  dropped by my place of work (Edinburgh College of Art) to lecture today, during a tiny break in his schedule between fathering a child and starting shooting on THE SOLOIST in LA. And what a very warm and fascinating chap he is. Seamus has been director of photography on films ranging from BUTTERFLY KISS (he still gets residual payments of £20 or so from that one) to WORLD TRADE CENTER  (for which I imagine he was a bit better-paid).

It was fascinating to see the qualities a top cinematographer needs to have, all readily apparent in one human package: diplomacy (he never trash-talked anybody, maintaining an affectionate attitude to everybody he discussed, despite whatever creative differences may have been involved); courage (shooting a five-minute uninterrupted steadicam shot with two thousand — the Dunkirk sequence of ATONEMENT) extras in a space of three hours with no possibility of a reshoot; artistic sensitivity (helping a first-time director abandon an intrusive and inappropriate shooting plan in favour of one that was more gentle and respectful) ; and communication skills (though Oliver Stone, thrown by the Irish accent, apparently asked him “Do you come with a set of fuckin’ subtitles?”)

What’s great about a good film-maker like this is that even when the films they are discussing are NOT among your favourites (I struggle to appreciate THE HOURS or THE WAR ZONE), a discussion of the choices made is enlightening and inspirational, because somebody like Seamus clearly does not make a cinematic choice without good reasons behind it. And creativity and straight problem-solving are suspended together in such harmony that it is impossible for the eventual viewer to see where one ends and the other begins.

In the course of the morning we heard about the RedCam (, the hydraulic sinking set that allowed Julianne Moore’s bedroom to flood with water, the “worst steadicam shot in the world” (which was amazing) and a lot of other cool stuff.

It was particularly charming to learn that at the end of shooting THE HOURS, Nicole Kidman gave Seamus her nose, which now has pride of place on his mantelpiece. A touching gesture. So I guess she has to wear a false nose now.

No, wait, somebody’s just told me that WAS a false nose, she still has her original one. Right, got you.

Her face would redden with anger but the nose stayed the same.

Les Filles de Feu

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2007 by dcairns

“Scènes de la vie parallèle…” 

My last couple of entries were pretty silly, maybe because I just saw Jacques Rivette’s DUELLE (UNE QUARANTAINE) and my brain fell off. There’s no way I’m going to formulate any coherent thoughts about this film for some time, and coherent thoughts probably couldn’t do justice to it anyway, so here are some INCOHERENT ones:

The goddesses of the sun and moon compete to obtain The Fairy Godmother, a magic gem, in modern Paris.


The music is provided by a pianist improvising along with the action. That may be how Neil Young scored DEAD MAN, but he wasn’t visible IN the film, doing it. Here, Jean Wiener the old chap at the ivories, is clearly visible in the background of shots, tinkling away in bars, dance halls and hotel rooms. I was hoping he’d turn up in the aquarium too, but I guess that was ruled too obviously weird.

Lots of creaking in this film! As the dolly trundles over wooden floors, a cacophony of straining wood announces its presence. Since the film has a very live soundtrack, there was obviously no way to eliminate these extraneous sounds, so they kind of make a mild virtue of them. The camera movements, couples with the moves of the actors, are extremely elegant and elaborate, and the symphony of sounds that accompany them all can be seen as atmosphere.

duelle to the death

Awesome costumes all round. The romance of 1976, with added ‘thirties vibe, plus MASSIVE sunglasses; veils; many hats; a silver-tipped cane and a magic gemstone activated by drops of blood…

Jean Babilée is an amazing physical presence, not just when he does his acrobatic feats, but just in his general movements, which are all like dance, even when maybe he’s just moving around so you can’t see how short he is next to the women.

“I love the artist’s use of the colour blue,” – Ryan O’Neal in BARRY LYNDON.

Jean Wiener’s daughter, Elizabeth, turns up briefly. I only know her from Clouzot’s pop-art psychodrama LA PRISONIERRE, which deserves to be more widely seen. A gripping tale of kinky sexual shenanigans among the kinetic art set.

Both DUELLE and LA PRISONIERRE are available only from France, without English subtitles. Being linguistically handicapped, I experienced both films thanks to live translation from the multilingual Mr. David Wingrove, who acted as what the Japanese might call a Benshi, or film describer. He was constantly wondering if DUELLE’s dialogue seemed incoherent because of the wine he’d drunk, or because it really did make very little conventional sense. By the end he was assured of the latter.

DW didn’t have time to translate the accompanying mini-documentary, but I noticed they showed a DUELLE poster in between images from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and MULHOLLAND DRIVE, which seemed almost right…