Archive for December 20, 2007

I Came, I Saw…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2007 by dcairns

Aleksei Kravchenko

Since I’ve been going on about faces rather a lot (more on BODIES, soon), I couldn’t very well fail to mention this little chap, Aleksei Kravchenko, in COME AND SEE, which I re-saw recently at a screening I put on at Screen Academy Scotland.

(Screening this film is problematic: I was approached by more than one person with the question, “What are you showing tonight?” and when I replied, “Come and See,” they’d say, “But what are you showing?” and the whole thing turned into a protracted Abbott & Costello routine.)

Elem Klimov’s astonishingly powerful and horrific WWII movie is another of those films which is relentlessly dark and negative, but never becoems depressing. One emerges glad to be alive. A big part of the film’s power comes from the extraordinary central performance by young Kravchenko, whose commitment to the role of a young partisan fighting the Nazis in Belarus was so strong that Klimov and his crew  feared for the boy’s sanity. Although Klimov’s humanitarian impulses were not strong enough to prevent him from, like William Wellman in his 30s gangster films, using live ammo…

Anyhow, the face is eloquent, what I call a PROFOUND FACE, and the performance powerful, and at times Kravchenko looks like a bad drawing (like I might draw) of my nephew Calum, which also intensifies my emotional responses… although what we really get is the Universal Face of Suffering Humanity, filtered through the specifics of a single person’s features. 

The makeup is also hugely important, as the hero’s shattering experiences gradually give him the weathered face of an old man…

Klimov’s wife, Larissa Shepitko, directed THE ASCENT, which is maybe the ultimate film about the Eastern Front, whereas Klimov’s movie is more of a descent into Hell than an altogether realistic portrait of a campaign, but the effect is of an engrossing psychological realism, with the commitment to P.O.V. maintained relentlessly: when the boy is deafened by exploding shells, the soundtrack is engulfed by a droning, ringing tinnitus effect that continues, slowly fading, for the next half hour of screen time. Compared to this, those moments in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN where Tom Hanks’ hearing is affected are like the Tom & Jerry version.

Klimov’s heavy use of steadicam reminds me of another film of sweeping movement towards death, acts of violence we don’t want to see but are driven ineluctably towards: the BBC play ELEPHANT, written by Bernard MacLaverty, directed by Alan Clarke.

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File of Film Facts, #2

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2007 by dcairns

 Wooden performance.

1] Alfred Hitchcock once experimented with directing by electro-galvanism. Minute electric shocks were administered through electrodes attached to his cast’s anatomies, signalling them when and how fast to move. The experiment was abandoned when Herbert Marshall’s wooden leg failed to respond to stimuli.

2] Stuntwork is carefully supervised in modern Hollywood film, but occasionally something goes wrong. Four stuntmen were killed making THE FIRM with Tom Cruise, as director Sidney Pollack attempted to shoot an apparently simply scene of Cruise rising from a settee. Only on the fifth take was the illusion of a smooth “getting up off the sofa” movement captured without fatality.

A stuntman stands in for Cruise.

3] He-man Arnold Schwartzenegger’s fame began at age 14, when he won a knobbly knees competition in Blackpool. Born Ernie Wattle in nearby Skegness, he changed his name and adopted a phoney “foreign” accent to stand out from other competitors.

4] Which glamorous Hollywood star was actually born with male sexual organs?*

5] Glowering director Brian DePalma keeps a lifelike miniature sculpture of himself in his fridge. The figurine, known as “Little Brian”, is made from the SCARFACE helmer’s own body fat, removed during liposuction in the early nineties. DePalma is said to believe that if “Little Brian” should ever melt, he will die.

Brian DePalma.

6] Stephen Frears is never seen in public without his lucky trainers, but what is less well-known is that many other filmmakers depend on good-luck charms to make it through a tricky shoot. John Milius keeps a lucky bullet embedded in his skull, Peter Jackson wears a lucky false ear (but I won’t say where), and in later years Otto Preminger would only direct wearing his “Mr. Freeze” costume from the Batman television series.

Otto Preminger on the set of The Human Factor

7] Production designer Brian Eatwell was once tasked with building a set for a French palace without sufficient funds. Chancing his arm, he drove the director to the Palace of Versailles, and claimed to have “knocked it together for a tenner.” Filming went smoothly and to this day the director is unaware of the harmless imposture.

8] Maverick auteur Werner Herzog once planned to film the life of J.S. Bach with a cast of sea-lions, but was forced to abandon the project when told that the animals could not speak or play musical instruments.

Bruno S.

9] Action movie mogul Joel Silver once made the same film twice, for a bet. Both versions of the film, EXECUTIVE DECISION, were shot back-to-back. While only one version was released to cinemas, the duplicate was eventually issued as a DVD extra. The films are said to be identical, except that in the second film Halle Berry’s air stewardess role is played by a heavily-disguised Gerard Depardieu.

Gerard Depardieu

10] During the seventies “blaxploitation” boom, black versions of traditional horror films were hits, under the titles BLACULA and BLACKENSTEIN. Schlockmeister Samuel Z. Arkoff planned to cash in with his own series, including THE HOUND OF THE BLACKERVILLES (featuring a rampaging dalmation filmed in negative to appear predominantly  black); THE HUNCHBLACK OF NOTRE DAME; and THE MAMMY, as well as the first “whitesploitation” film, THE CREATURE FROM THE WHITE LAGOON.

*Answer to 4]: Brad Pitt.

Born male.