Archive for February 13, 2008

Quote of the Day: DESTINY

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2008 by dcairns


Fiona and I were discussing Thea Von Harbou, top screenwriter of 20s-30s German cinema (including DIE NIBELUNGEN) and wife of Fritz Lang.

Fi: “What did she look like?”

Me: “Like him.”

Fi: “No!”

Me: “Yes.”


From Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast ~

‘”I was especially impressed by her ability to concentrate,” recalled [production designer Erich] Kettelhut. “She could sit amid the chaos if the studio during a shoot, knit, dictate a new novel to her secretary, and meanwhile watch her husband direct and offer him her advice. She chatted with two women visitors in French and English while she replaced the piano player, accompanying the filming with music.”‘

What especially wowed me was McGilligan’s account of T.V.H.’s death.

Stairway to Heaven

Post-war and post-Lang, she was living in an apartment with a picture of Gandhi and a picture of Hitler (this apartment is a perfect MAP OF HER HEAD). Invited to attend a screening at the Berlinale in 1954 of DER MUDE TOD, a Lang film she scripted thirty-three years earlier, she answered questions from the audience. So moved was she by the experience of seeing the film again, that she wasn’t watching her step as she left. She fell, developed a hip injury, was hospitalized, and her already unstable health declined within a few days of checking in.


Assassinated by her own film!

I know of very few instances remotely like this, although director Seth Holt died during the making of BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, struck down by a fatal case of hiccups.

“No, really, it’s true! I’m not making this up.” ~ Willoughby Kipling.



Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2008 by dcairns

 boom bang a bang

Things that filmmakers think will speed up their films, but in fact often slow them down:

1) Lots of narrative strands. Yes, you can move back and forth between them, ensuring a rapid turnover of scenes and a variety of settings and characters. But the effect may be that each story tends to develop VERY SLOWLY, since it only has a short episode of screen time in which to progress. This will become obvious over time. See: HEROES. Unless it becomes obvious AT ONCE. See: ST TRINIANS.

2) Snazzy wipes and other fancy transitions. I used to say that wipes are a sure sign of a film in trouble. Come to think of it, I still do. They are. Admittedly, THE SEVEN SAMURAI and RASHOMON are masterpieces, and Kurosawa in those days used wipes quite a lot. And they don’t hurt those films by any means. But I bet everybody heaved a sigh of relief when he grew out of them.

Instead of wipes, I recommend the use of Intertitles, reading “The makers regret that they were unable to achieve a lively and interesting effect when they shot the film, so here is a diversionary tactic we hope will satisfy.”

Even when the film is “nae bad”, as we say here, wipes generally betray a loss of confidence in the cutting room. Tony Richardson was convinced TOM JONES was a stinker, so he panicked and speckled the film with slightly annoying optical wipes, freeze-frames and flip-flops. To the dessicated shade of Mr. Richardson I wag a finger and say what I say to students when they dangle a script and ask, ‘How do I make it interesting?’ ‘Let’s assume,’ I respond, ‘that it’s ALREADY interesting (because if not, you are stuffed), and instead ask, “How do I bring out its interesting qualities?”‘ Again, Richardson doesn’t ruin TOM JONES, but the techniques he brought to the otiginal filming were much more effective than the optical house malarkey inflicted after the fact.

Fast and Furious

3) Snappy montages. The Hollywood hack’s chance to show off what songs he can afford. But montages slacken dramatic tension, so though you can whiz through plot developments or show our happy and affluent couple getting to know each other without having to bother with any tiresome WRITING, you allow the audience to drift off into their own little reveries (or to the concession stand) and it will Take Time to get them back.

(A Very Honourable Exception: the turning pages of the scrapbook in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, which achieve devastating emotional impact with sublime economy of means.)

Brokeback Mountain

This isn’t intended as a list of Thou Shalt Nots. All of the above devices are legitimate. It’s just that they have often been often used to produce an effect of speed and zip which is by no means intrinsic to their nature.

Euphoria #47: I love the rain

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2008 by dcairns

Nominate your favourite moments of moving picture happiness, and I will SULLY THEM FOREVER by posting them in my terrible blog. 

Ford Buchanan, member of a rival trivia quiz team — my BITTEREST ENEMY — suggested this example of very nervous euphoria, and I have consented to let it appear before you. See how egalitarian we are here?

‘The date scene in ‘Play It Again Sam’, where a tense Woody Allen lays out his (shop-bought) running medal, throws a record across the room, says, “I love the rain; it washes memories from the streets” and so on.’

Rather than go into the usual but about how Woody Allen isn’t as good as he was, or debating how good he was when he was, I want to focus on that flying discus. Allen was definitely good at visual gags, back in the day. He didn’t do them very often, but SLEEPER has a high concentration, and you can find quite a few in BANANAS and LOVE AND DEATH. ZELIG has a few memorable scary-surreal images. MANHATTAN has just one vis-gag, but it’s a beauty.

Boating in Central Park. Woody runs his fingers languidly in the lake. They emerge coated with black slime.

What I admire in the flying L.P. and the slimy fingers is that the gags are not only funny (to me, anyhow) but apt — they suit the Allen persona brilliantly. I understand why Allen moved away from these kind of jokes, because you can’t get away with too much of that in an avowedly “serious” comedy like MANHATTAN, and most of the other later films. But when he’s deliberately made more light-weight fare, W.A. hasn’t returned to the slapstick mode, and this seems an awful shame, since hardly anybody can DO slapstick nowadays, and Woody not only CAN, but he has a distinctive persona to do it WITH.

And yes, I  know Herbert Ross directed this film, but I can’t think of anything to say about Herbert Ross.