Euphoria #33: Lip-flap a-go-go

High-powered producer/assistant director David Brown (pictured) is the most well-placed film industry bod I can claim as friend. Even I’m impressed I know him!

 The Whistle Blower

Here, David cameos in his first ever film (as unit runner), GREGORY’S GIRL. More on this little beauty in Euphoria #32.

At our recent outing to SWEENEY TODD, I twisted David’s arm and got him to think of some favourite film moments for this spot: scenes that create the kind of rosy glow and feeling of well-being that can be detected on Geiger counters.

To his great credit, the first title past David’s lips was Powell & Pressburger’s 1946 A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (or STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, for those of you afflicted with an oceanic handicap). He subsequently volunteered several OTHER great suggestions, but we’re keeping them for later. We veered back and forth between the rose and the table tennis scene, but I finally put my foot down and insisted on the rose, since I have more to say about it.

At this point I must hand over to my deceased friend Lawrie — a fellow assistant director of David’s, though of an earlier generation, present on the set as these sequences were shot.

‘David Niven, you know had odd hands, like a labourer, so whenever there was a close-up of hands to be done, they would say, “Get Lawrie.”‘

(So that’s Lawrie’s hands we see holding the flask.)

‘The line was written as, “One is so starved of colour up there,” but we’d done several takes, and Marius Goring, who was one of the cleverest actors I ever knew, was bored, so he said, “One is so starved of Technicolor up there,” and we all fell about laughing. He was just having fun, but Mickey [Powell] must have liked it.’

Sharp-eyed Shadowplayers will have spotted the fairly heavy lip-flap on that line: Goring’s mouth movement’s don’t quite synch with what he’s saying. My theory is that Powell must have decided he liked that improv later, but didn’t have a good take of it, so he used a “straight” take and dubbed the sound in from Goring’s ad-lib, or else got Goring in to post-synch the line.

Powell said that when he heard the audience laugh at that line, he knew there was no such thing as realism in the cinema. It’s true, too. All films bear a purely allegorical relation to reality — it may suit their purposes sometimes to strive for an illusion of “naturalism”, but it may not. British cinema seems to have arrived at something close to a “house style” which is either faux-naturalism (Loach) or FAILED faux-naturalism (almost everyone else) and which excludes nearly everything that can be enchanting or exciting about film art. One could pretty easily draw up a Dogme 95 list of commandments for British film and see that nearly all of them tow the line. (Note to self: try this and see if you’re talking crap.)

What else to say? Well, I purposely kept this clip long, because I just couldn’t stop it. It’s the same when I watch the film or show the opening to students. It takes a rare force of willpower to hit the STOP button. That’s cinema.

But the moment that primarily concerns us is the transition from b&w to colour on the rose, and the line afterwards. When Pressburger first suggested mixing media in this way, Powell assumed that the earthly scenes would be monochromatic, with fantasy otherworld in colour, as in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Pressburger set him straight: “Look around you: the world is in colour, therefore it’s Heaven that must be in black and white.”

6 Responses to “Euphoria #33: Lip-flap a-go-go”

  1. This is off-topic but I wanted to know your opinion on the DVD-market in Britain. After 10 years in this format are we getting a good choice of films? I rent from and often find it galling that they don’t have more international and older films available to rent – they do seem to have everything that is available on region 2 but it doesn’t seem enough. Recently I emailed them to ask if they could start renting out films from other regions but make it clear that they don’t have English subtitles. As always with their customer services they emailed back some piece of the terms and conditions that they think has something to do with my query but doesn’t actually answer it at all (many businesses seem to communicate in the same way as an MP these days). So I clicked “No this doesn’t answer my question” and tried again. This time they came back with “We only rent out region 2 DVDs”. But hang on, this is a suggestion from a customer – at least say you’re going to put it in a suggestion box. Pretend! This is called running a business! So I don’t know if it’s illegal or if they don’t work in UK DVD players. The other thing is I wouldn’t mind being able to see French films with French subtitles – and the same with other languages too. I mean this in general, not just for imported DVDs – it’s an excellent way for a student to learn the language.
    And away from the foreign film market, I live in Oswestry, Shropshire. We have no cinema and our nearest cinemas have a small choice that doesn’t even quite cover everything on general release. If small, critically acclaimed films that I read about don’t make it on to DVD and TV continues to ignore films I literally have no chance of watching them. I also think that great directors should have all their films released on DVD – with smaller production of their less-popular work. I think they have managed this with Hitchcock but not with many others.

  2. Wow — there’s enough for a whole blog post there. Which I shall write.
    Just about everything that makes it to UK cinemas should get a DVD release because often it’s not worthwhile for a distributor just to get a cinema release, they need DVD and preferably TV sales to make money. But there are still films that slip through the net, and re-releases of classics often fall into this camp.
    I hope to cover the rest of your points this weekend.

  3. Jenny,

    There may be a legal issue involved. I’m a dvd buyer for a business here in Australia and we’ve been threatened with legal action several times over parallel importing of titles from the US and UK. We do it anyway and take the risks but try to avoid the more litigious companies (I’m looking at you Buena Vista and Hopscotch – oh no, they probably have markers on interweb references. I’m a marked man. Save yourselves). Kind of gives the lie to globalism in business.

    I wish that Criterion would invest in a glorious laserdisced edition of A Matter of Life and Death. Of all the P&P films it’s the one crying out for a decent dvd release.

  4. Since I was just thinking of Kathleen Byron, somebody ought to get her to record a commentary or interview for this hypothetical AMOLAD DVD, along with Jack Cardiff, Richard Attenborough, and anybody else who’s still alive.

    Basically, Lovefilm can’t rent discs not released in this country, since the films are only licensed for one territory. I’ll talk more about this in a blog post.

  5. Has anyone ever told him he looks a little like Harry Potter LOL!!!

  6. This is a Harry Potter lookalike CLUB.

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