Archive for January 24, 2008

Quote of the day: The scented volume.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on January 24, 2008 by dcairns

Lady with Torch

“It’s not a business, it’s a racket.”

~ Harry Cohn, quoted in Ezra Goodman’s The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood.

looky looky looky here comes booky

My copy of this just arrived. Looks GREAT! And was very cheap, but — smells funny. You know, just kind of… funny.

Can’t complain. The price was low low low. But still… what IS that smell???

(Opening the book at random in search of other nice lines, I find this, Cecil B. DeMille’s summary of his movie-making philosophy. It sounds tried and true but oddly I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before ~ ‘I will trade you forty gorgeously beautiful Hawaiian sunsets for one good sock on the jaw.’)


Drazin doubts.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2008 by dcairns

 Welles wells up

Charles Drazin’s In Search of The Third Man is an excellent study of Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s classic film. You get history, analysis, anecdote and context.

Frederick Baker’s documentary SHADOWING THE THIRD MAN is kind of a shocking mess. The clips are projected on statues, making them impossible to see, and there’s no insight provided into why the film is important, admired, interesting…

The only reason for lumping both pieces together here is because they both make an allegation about the film’s shooting which I think is manifestly untrue.

For years, the story had been known that Orson Welles had been reluctant to venture into Vienna’s sewers to shoot the film’s climactic chase. Carol Reed reported that Welles was persuaded to appear in one shot, and then, gaining confidence, had consented to a few more angles, swiftly captured by Reed and his crew, most of them variations on a basic set-up.

But in his 1999 book, Drazin alleges that ALL of Welles’ shots in the sewer chase were in fact achieved later, at Shepperton Studios. His sole source seems to be his interview with the film’s able assistant director Guy Hamilton (later himself the director of movies such as THE COLDITZ STORY and GOLDFINGER). But why trust Hamilton’s fifty-year-old memories versus Reed’s accounts, given closer to the time of shooting?

Drazin suggests that Reed was embroidering his account to give journalists what they wanted to hear, but could not the same be true of Hamilton? But there’s no reason to assume Hamilton isn’t being honest — if, as Drazin explains, the movie was shot with several units, working all hours, with Reed hurrying from unit to unity on a diet of Benzedrine, was Guy Hamilton actually present for every shot taken?

In any case, it’s unnecessary to choose sides based on whose story we like best, since all we need to do is LOOK AT THE FILM.

sewer thing

Here’s Welles hiding in what LOOKS like a very large sewer: too big to be a sound-stage, in my opinion. Of course the background COULD be a rear-projection trick…

flushed away

Except that Welles turns and runs off into the distance. Reed then uses various parts of this shot showing Welles becoming gradually smaller. It COULD be a stand-in (Guy Hamilton doubled for Welles in many long-shots) in these shots, except we know it isn’t because of the angles shown above.

the turd man

A short while later we get this shot — which looks very much as if the camera has just moved forward three feet, with Welles repositioned, creating a second set-up out of the first.

Later again, Welles pauses in the midst of a vast (and suspiciously similar) tunnel, paralysed by anxiety as the sounds of his approaching pursuers echo from an infinity of archways. There’s a long-shot, which could be Hamilton, Welles, or just about anybody, then this medium shot:

Lime light

The background COULD have been rear-projected in the studio, but it’s awfully convincing. And it would have been fairly swift work to adapt the previous set-up by moving the camera out from the wall by ten feet or so…

Most of the other shots that can definitely be identified as Welles and not Hamilton happen around this area:

drain people

There are several levels, with a cataract of sewerage in the foreground, and the textures are very convincing, but nevertheless, THIS might very well be a Shepperton Studios set designed by Vincent Korda. Welles certainly spends a lot of time running around this area. I  haven’t been on the Third Man Tour of Vienna’s sewers so I can’t say if this spot exists there, but even if it does, I guess it could have been duplicated on a sound stage.

tunnel of light

The final sequence, which includes this stunning shot, seems to have been achieved entirely using beautifully textured studio sets in England.

SO: just by looking at the film, we can see that Reed’s earlier account — Welles agreed to one shot, then allowed for some variations to be filmed — is probably quite correct.

I’m glad to get this version of events out there. One controversy remains:

Grate expectations

In interview with Peter Bogdanovitch in This Is Orson Welles, Welles claimed to have suggested this shot. Other accounts suggest that the fingers are Carol Reed’s own. Both stories COULD be true, but it seems unlikely…

My money’s on Reed.

Euphoria #27: “Make sure that your umbrella is upside-down.”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2008 by dcairns

Newly-declared Shadowplayer Matthew McConkey (if that really IS his name) nominates this blissful melancholia and bittersweet charm in title-sequence form, as his Cinema Euphoria du jour.

I had misremembered it! I vaguely thought the titles were different colours relating to the hue of the passing parapluies, but NO! That’s the coloured darts in the title sequence of HELP! This is less pop-art but utterly lovely.

Some “flaws” that aren’t: the way the camera has to tilt down before the rain starts, and tilt up AFTER it’s finished, because they don’t have a rain machine big enough to drench the whole port. It works beautifully as a piece of abstract camera choreography, and if there’s a little bit of economics making it happen in THIS precise way, that’s all part of Demy’s artistry. He makes budgetary considerations into aesthetics.

The way the rain is visibly pouring off the camera crane itself, in a couple of big obvious trickles. Who cares? It’s right out there, and if they’d been bothered by that, they wouldn’t have been able to do this shot at all, and it’s a gorgeous shot, so accept it, like the floorboards that creak whenever the camera moves in Rivette’s DUELLE: REJOICE in it!


A couple of things that HAVE slightly bothered me:

(1) The plot is on the simple side. It’s basically one-third of Pagnol’s FANNY trilogy, stripped of the more amusing older characters (does anybody ever mentionRaimu anymore? A Film Great!). Which means it limps along a little. But it IS heading for the most gloriously sad-sweet conclusion, in cinema’s most beautiful petrol station, so it’s all worthwhile.

(2) The colours. In this scene, and the ending, and many others, they are JUST SUBLIME. In a few scenes, they border on visual armageddon. The stripes in Deneuve’s mum’s wallpaper? Those colours just Don’t Belong Together. Scenes like this perpetrate more injury to the eyeball than Lucio Fulci managed in his ENTIRE CAREER.

(3) Catherine Deneuve. I know, I know, she IS the Queen of France or whatever, and her unused ice-rink of a persona works beautifully in BELLE DE JOUR and most other stuff, but I dunno, maybe somebody WARMER? She’s perfect at the end though, for mysterious poetic reasons that can’t be defined.

(4) The songs. Er, song. Shouldn’t there be more than one? I mean, it’s a truly great song, but can you get by on just the one? Maybe you could, if somebody would SING it, a definitive version of it…

Just two demoiselles from Rochefort who lived on the wrong side of the tracks

These, if I took them seriously, would be serious flaws indeed. But somehow I don’t care. I tend to regard LES DEMOISELLES DE ROCHEFORT as the great musical, the great film, and this as a Beginning and Ending of such transcendency and transplendency as to obviate any need for a film in between.