Archive for February 2, 2008

I am Giggling…Why?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

“The secrets of the analyst’s couch are like those of the confessional, only more interesting.” ~ John Collier.

Two films touching on the theme of psychoanalysis, then: Compton Bennett’s THE SEVENTH VEIL, whose very title suggests a relation between the seductive and the psychotherapeutic, and I AM FRIGID…WHY?, a demented dollop of Euro-sleaze from the febrile “mind” of Max Pecas.

THE SEVENTH VEIL is a woman’s picture from Gainsborough Films, makers of “classy” bodice-ripping romps like THE WICKED LADY and THE MAN IN GREY. All these films helped make a star out of James Mason as Britain’s leading attractive brute, raping and beating his way across the Flowers of Young English Womanhood to the delight of repressed 1940s audiences.

T7V takes James away from the period trappings, where he could safely say things like, “It’ll make a change, taking you by force,” and sets him up as a rich, neurotic cripple who forms a controlling obsession for his young ward, Ann Todd, a brilliant pianist. (This reminds me of Ann’s namesake SWEENEY TODD — you wait ages for a movie about a man lusting after his ward, then two come along at once. The only other one I can even think of is BATMAN AND ROBIN.)

Ann T is the star and female sensibility through which events are filtered, but they get further filtration from smooth-talking head-shrinker Herbert Lom (full name: Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru — I’ve been known to recite this at parties so be warned) who is treating her for suicidal depression and a fixated belief that her hands are paralysed, which they aren’t.

HCAKZS puts her under hypnosis, and she sorta drifts into flashback…

…and we realise what a big influence this flick had on Hollywood melodramas like POSSESSED, etc. Even the “technical terms” used, like narcosis and mutism, are the same. Todd’s case history emerges from these induced flashbacks, and we see her as a schoolgirl, entrusted to the “care” of James Mason, a distant relation in every sense:


Ann T. espies Mr. Mason’s pussycat. “Would you like to stroke her?” he offers. She demurs tremulously.

Poor Ann has already failed to win a music scholarship after being caned on her hands, but the chilly Mason senses her talents and sets about molding her, Svengali-fashion, into a star. This rampant control-freakery soon extends to breaking up relationships with perfectly nice men. After YEARS of this, Todd finally rebels, tells her Wicked Uncle that she’s leaving…

Hot Toddy

Mason is kind of affecting here, because he wants to reach out to her, but his neurotic coldness won’t let him, and so —


In an iconic moment of British ’40s melodrama, a wigged-out J.M. tries to smash his beloved’s fingers with his cane (Mason is Romantically Crippled, like Byron). Fleeing with her podgy German portrait-painter beau, Todd gets into a car-crash and injures her hands, though not seriously.

Now Lom has the facts. Like the best Freudian detectives, he seeks out the “suspects” and gets additional info from them, then calls them all together. Podgy Teuton, Mason, and Todd’s first love, the wise-cracking yank. Lom then effects a MIRACLE CURE simply by PLAYING A RECORD to Todd, who descends the stairs into the roomful of waiting swains, ready, like Lassie, to go to the one she loves the most.

And she chooses… well, it might be unfair to give this away. But if I say “the highest paid actor” and “the one more in need of psychiatric care than herself” you’ll probably get it. It’s a fascinating turn of events because the film gives absolutely no clue as to how this relationship is now supposed to work. A.T. has been cured of her fear, but will her new lover be able to express the tender emotions that have completely defeated him thus far? Is this going to be an s.m.-type relationship? Does Herbert Lom know what the hell he’s playing at?

The ending feels like a very bold piece of provocation: we are being asked, What do we think of this? Can we make sense of it? The filmmaker, of course, is copping out of his usual responsibility, that of telling us what to think. This means the film is either incomplete, devoid of meaning, or mature, treating its audience as thinking beings. I’d say Compton Bennett has actually hit on a way of EXPLOITING inconclusive narrative for financial gain.

Everybody’s very good in this movie. Mason gets to be brooding and uptight. Ann Todd is a revelation: always a slightly cold actress, here she exhibits an impressive range, even convincing in ponytails as a schoolgirl — she does an even better job that Joan Fontaine in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. Neither can convince as teenage, physically, but both do a great job with childlike body language. Certainly better than Sandra Julien in I AM FRIGID…WHY?

frigid hair

Sandra, as the virginal Doris, is rendered frigid by the trauma of rape in a greenhouse, then must Walk the Earth in search of sexual kicks that might break through her psychological block. These include Kubrickian masked orgies, fey spanking sessions, and listless lesbianism, all filmed with oppressively coloured-gel-lighting, soft-focus and starburst filters until you’re aching for somebody to OPEN A BLOODY WINDOW.

Eyes Wide Apart

Orgy and Mess


There’s also the “theatrical troupe” glimpsed in the vid above:

Mr Boomtastic

But Doris only finds true happiness at the movie’s end, where she is able to have pure, loving consensual sex… in the greenhouse she was raped in… with the man who raped her.

Botanic antics

The psychoanalytic narrative seems to have been seen as a great excuse to abandon all narrative logic and have characters behave in a totally incredible way. Since understanding human nature is the speciality of SCIENCE, it’s OK for the behaviour in these films to make no sense to the audience.

I kind of have to hand it to Max Pecas for making a film as ludicrous as IAF…W? and still managing to have it be so outrageously offensive. Despite its campy surface (the men, though nominally straight, all seem like gay stereotypes) the flick seems to seriously propose the idea that revisiting a trauma can cure it — a popular Freudian fantasy (still big in Scientology), but even if Pecas was determined to follow this narrative (while making an erotic film about frigidity, itself a perverse idea)…still. The film can only be acceptable if we see it as 100% sexual fantasy and 0% sexual politics, but can a film entirely rid itself of any relationship to life? And should it?

The Audience

“I want to take you to the dernieres limites d’erotisme.” ~ Alain Cuny, EMMANUELLE.


Disc Drive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

Elizabeth Wiener Investigates 

Regular Shadowplayer Jenny wrote this in our Comments section: 

‘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?’ 

First, I have to ask, relative to what? I’m cheered by the fact that there’s more films available, and more good ones, on DVD than were ever accessible on VHS, and the quality is generally much better (pan-and-scan is almost becoming extinct). On the other hand, the selection in America seems to be much better (plus the U.S. has the wonder that is Turner Classic Movies — the British equivalent is a pale and simpering shadow of the mighty stateside behemoth). So the situation could still stand monstro improving.

Deeper Into 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.’ 

It definitely isn’t. (NOTHING IS EVER ENOUGH!) I may actually be getting near the dregs of what I want to rent in this country, even though new stuff keeps coming out.

There IS a sorta-solution for British residents, but it doesn’t involve renting, and depending on how far you take it, it could get… illegal.

barely legal

First, you need a multi-region player. These are just as cheap as single-region ones, sometimes even cheaper (they actually ADD something to the DVD player to make it single region only). You can also find online hacks for most DVD players that actually convert them to multi-region, easy as π.

Then you buy from You can already buy from, etc, since European discs use the same region coding as the UK. Once you’ve watched the film you can sell it on eBay, so the cost ends up being relatively low.

Now comes the illegal bit. With free software like DVD Decrypter, DVD Shrink, combined with the more expensive Nero, it’s possible to copy every film you buy or rent. I’m not suggesting you do this as IT IS WRONG. Bruce Willis and Jeffrey Katzenberg will wind up BEGGING IN THE STREETS if you do this. Could you live with yourself?

It could be argued that ripping movies that aren’t available in the UK is a way to correct a problem in the marketplace, where a demand isn’t being met, or prices are too high. But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start ripping you may find it hard to stop.

So don’t do that. But the buying from abroad thing is legal, and you’ll be helping out others by re-selling what you buy.

It’s great if you’re interested in getting French movies without English subs, because (a) you can learn a lot of storytelling technique from watching films where you don’t understand the dialogue and (b) if you speak French, then a whole new set of nuances in the dialogue will be open to you, and also (c) you’ll be able to see lots of great French films that aren’t available anywhere with English subtitles, like these weird things.

ecstasy of cinema

Jenny also said:

‘Recently I emailed [Lovefilm] 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.’ 

Generally a DVD distributor only has the rights for a certain set of territories, so it wouldn’t be legal for a U.S. or a French DVD to be offered for rental in the U.K. But if Lovefilm are failing to give you this information, keep hassling them — I think unhelpful customer service should be repaid in kind by obstreperous customers who refuse to give up.

My favourite Lovefilm moment is when they suddenly increased their databse by about a thousand, and were offering films for rent like THE CASE OF LENA SMITH, which not only is unavailable on DVD anywhere in the world, it’s actually a LOST FILM — only fragments survive.

‘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.’

The issue of British TV’s slide into a completely insular world that ignores art cinema is a really serious one which I should blog about soon.

‘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.’

Unseen in UK

I totally agree. One consequence of having a filmmaker’s entire oeuvre available is that even the weaker films become more interesting when you can see them all together. And yet at present in the UK you can’t even see every Spielberg film.

I understand that with a filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa, who was both long-lived and prolific, and who worked for more than one studio, gathering all the rights together at one DVD distributor would be tough. And while servicing movie buffs who want to see all Otto Preminger’s movies, Hollywood studios also want to keep fans happy who are more interested in movie stars, so for instance RIVER OF NO RETURN may get a release ahead of DAISY KENYON, even if it’s not as interesting, purely because it has Monroe.

Then there are commendable outfits like the womderful Criterion and Masters of Cinema, which exist to deliver the creme de la creme of film culture, and which therefore don’t go in for complete filmographies.

Where a filmmaker has made a relatively small number of films, it would be nice if they were all made available by SOMEBODY. There’s a Clouzot box set, but it doesn’t contain many of his films. Masaki Kobayashi was far from prolific, but most of his stuff is still not obtainable in the west, and hardly any in the UK. Of Von Sternberg’s 22 existing, complete features, about half are not available, including all his silent films (although a few of these WERE released on VHS).

For all these reasons and more, the capitalist system doesn’t serve the discerning film lover very well, even if it did allow many of the great films to get made in the first place. (BUT — free BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in today’s Guardian).

All images from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE (not available in the US or UK, not available with English subtitles ANYWHERE).

Quote of the day: “A very tasty world.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

gay ape?

“A very tasty world.” ~ Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius in THE FINAL PROGRAMME (A.K.A. THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH)

I promised I’d write more about this film. Now I have!

But there’s EVEN MORE coming up soon-ish in The New-York Ghost which you can learn all about HERE. And then I’ll probably have even more to say here, especially when I get my mitts on the forthcoming DVD of Robert Fuest’s AND SOON THE DARKNESS.

Hedwig and the angry Finch