Archive for January 10, 2008

“He had the Devil’s own eye.”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

 you're thinking about a brick wall

Very much enjoyed talking about Jack Clayton to students the other day. First lecture of term is usually a bit shambolic, and the room and equipment didn’t help here, but Clayton’s films are quite accessible and it’s certainly easy to find good scenes to extract: there are so many stand-out moments in THE INNOCENTS and maybe especially THE PUMPKIN EATER that it’s hard to limit oneself to one or two per film.

My CD of Georges Delerue’s original score to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES just arrived, so I’m listening to that as I write. Pretty criminal of Disney to have fired the sublime Delerue and hired James Horner instead, but I will admit to rather liking the Horner score, which has a pleasingly Halloweeny sound.

Since Disney never throw ANYTHING away, the idea of a restored director’s cut of SWTWC is perfectly practical. Removing the V.O. and changing the score would be very simple, and would already make a bug difference. The only thing standing in the way of this is the fact that there’s no obvious money to be made from such a project — unlike BLADE RUNNER, this film hasn’t grown in reputation since it’s first, unsuccessful release. (I remember waiting for it to play Edinburgh, but it never even came.)

Looking at Clayton’s work as a whole was a pleasure — bits link up in unusual ways. The fly that buzzes on the soundtrack of THE INNOCENTS, presaging the appearance of ghosts, moves onscreen for THE GREAT GATSBY, where it alights on a sandwich mysteriously abandoned in the echoing mansion house.

Woman in Black

The influence of the past on the present, embodied by those ghosts, receives an echo in THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, when Judith’s drinking friend appears as a shadowy, blurred reflection in the background of a shot, fading up as Judith remembers her.

Clayton’s fondness for overlapping images became more obvious, from the lap-dissolved dream in THE INNOCENTS to the slow mix that takes us from a giant billboard image of bespectacled eyes (the Eyes of God) to the blood-smeared headlights of Gatsby’s car. A slightly overdone effect, maybe, and one that anticipates even more vulgar pictorial effects in Coppola’s DRACULA (Coppola scripted Clayton’s GATSBY).

in the mouth of madness

But despite these interconnections, Clayton’s was such a discontinuous career that one can’t help feeling that vital parts are missing, films that would help make sense of the whole oevre if Clayton had been allowed to make them: projects like CASUALTIES OF WAR and THE TENANT, later realised by other filmmakers; projects never yet realised, like adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Jessamyn West’s MASSACRE AT FALL CREEK, or James Kennaway’s SILENCE.

(All this from Neil Sinyard’s excellent book, Jack Clayton.)

SILENCE was killed by Barry Diller when he took charge of 20th Century Fox. Diller is rumoured to be the model for Mr Burns in The Simpsons, and the fact that he cancelled the project without even reading the script caused Clayton to throw several chairs through that executives plate glass office window.

The story of a mute black woman known only as “Silence”, the unmade film acquired a prophetic significance when Clayton himself lost the power of speech after a stroke. Re-learning language and re-starting his career was an incredible feat — rather than regretting that Clayton made so few films, maybe I should just be grateful he was able to make as many as he did.

Free Mason

British teeth


Euphoria #14

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

Edinburgh College of Art graduate, my contemporary, Noo Yawk cartoonist and regular reader Simon Fraser nominates this extract of heart-thumping joy from Frank Perry’s unique John Cheever 1968 adaptation, THE SWIMMER.

“I’m not sure, but I think there’s a scene in ‘The Swimmer’ with Burt
Lancaster, when he races a horse on foot. Now that’s a man enjoying
being alive. Burt was good at being alive.”

Is true. And he was a fine figure of a fellow at fifty-five!

Burt always moved well. His experience as an acrobat informs his acting, and he trusted in the physical. I love that story of John Frankenheimer giving him a long, involved psychological piece of direction, and Burt saying “Ah, what the hell, I’ll just give it the grin.”

Apart from his acrobatics, in his early days Burt also worked as a clerk in a department store, selling lingerie. I bet he shifted a lot of pants.


Cinematographer David Quaid doesn’t seem to have shot very much. I have his other main film, made the same year as this: PRETTY POISON. That must have been a good year. I love all the sixties glamour stuff he does in this film, with diffusion, starburst filters, the full panoply of Sunday Supplement gloss, done without a trace of irony. Stunningly beautiful — I sort of feel that the more late 60s US films tried to be modern, the more old-fashioned they appeared — but I don’t necessarily condemn them for it. It’s a lovely effect at times, as in this film, which is very moving and packed with incredible actresses too.

I wonder what the effect would be if somebody put together a Frank Perry retrospective (maybe it’s already happened). He made quite a few distinguished films which, individually, have had plenty written about them, but I don’t get the impression he’s been studied much as an auteur. I have a tape Perry’s last film, ON THE BRIDGE, an autobiographical documentary about his fight against cancer, which I copied from the Lindsay Anderson Collection — one of these days, when I’m feeling sturdy enough, I must watch it.


Oh, apparently Sidney Pollack did some uncredited directing on this, but I don’t know what the story behind that is. However, I’ve been meaning to post some pretty frame grabs from what is actually both Lancaster and Pollack’s next film: CASTLE KEEP. I’m not sure it’s any kind of great movie, but it has some stunning images, decorated with some of the same lovely ‘sixties tics as THE SWIMMER.

The Trial

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2008 by dcairns

Nothing in the Universe is more powerful than the law.

I put it to you...

Pointy Birds

I'm innocent of any crime!


Dis is a stitch-up!

Heil myself

That's him, officer

And isn't it true...

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...

12 sleepy men

This is an outrage!

You're on trial, you can't object!

Court will rise

Judge Bean presiding

I was led astray

The Sentence is Death!

Expressionist sort-of-dream sequence from STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, photographed by Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST).

“My log will have something to say about this later.”