Archive for February 18, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet is dead

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on February 18, 2008 by dcairns

express yourself



Posted in FILM, Television with tags , on February 18, 2008 by dcairns

Knight of the realm 

This is my dear friend Lawrie. I’ve spoken of him before — assistant on THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCISSUS, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS…

Also onetime chairman of Films of Scotland and, somewhat bizarrely, producer of an animated Pink Floyd music promo in Holland.

I took this picture on a visit to see Lawrie in hospital. I just happened to have a camera on me at the time, and it occurred to me that I had no photographs of my friend. He’d gone in for a minor operation and his heart had stopped, so it seemed like a good time to carpe diem and all that.

Lawrie is looking pleased with himself as he’s recently learned that he was dead for a few minutes, and he didn’t feel a thing. Having no religious beliefs (beyond a vague kindly feeling that religious people should be treated respectfully, like the disabled) he wasn’t afraid of death, and his wartime experiences (fishing bodies out the sea for the R.A.F.) had given him a lifelong obsession with mortality, but it was very reassuring to him that he had travelled up that stairway to heaven, however briefly, and not experienced any pain.

(Lawrie had prior experience running DOWN that stairway, doubling for David Niven in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.)

In the picture he’s seen just a few hours after this first death, and a few months from the final one. If you look hard, you can ALMOST see the pillow through his head.

But this isn’t the true Polteroid, READ ON.

In the last months of his life, Lawrie was visited by a few Spectral Ladies. “I was lying in bed, and there was this, oh, quite nice-looking middle-aged lady standing in the doorway in a long, oatmeal dress.” The experience was repeated, with a different woman each time. Apparently this is not uncommon with people nearing the end of their lives. They didn’t bother him at all, these phantasmal visitors, and in due course, Lawrie died.

I was unable to attend the funeral as I was directing a nightmarishly complicated and kids’ TV show in Glasgow, on an incredibly tight schedule. As is usual, the costume department had a Polaroid camera to snap the actors for continuity purposes. A picture had just been taken and the camera placed on a table when


it went off all by itself. This was startling to the costume assistant who’d just put it down, but not as startling as it was to me, watching the picture develop…


I don’t know what’s going on with my hair — it looks like a child’s drawing of a vole, folded in half. And the camera, being on a table at waist level, rather emphasises my GIRTH in a manner I’m not too happy about. But since nobody was physically operating the camera, I would have to say it’s a pretty well-composed shot. I think Lawrie was actually getting buried at the time this was taken.


It’s fun to think of Lawrie, enjoying the freedom from his wheelchair that he could previously experience only in his dreams, larking about on the set and distracting me from my job when I really needed my wits about me. I nearly got fired!

With all respect to my ace cinematographer Scott Ward, I find this humble, unflattering snap more interesting than anything else we managed to film on the set that day.

“I have a competition in me…”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2008 by dcairns

I had three thrilling entries for the Shadowplay First Freaky Friday Free Prize Give-away Spectacular.


Question (1): I asked, of Cary Grant’s character name in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, ‘If the “O” in “Roger O Thornhill” didn’t stand for “Nothing,” what would it stand for?’

First to write in was David Ehrenstein, with the topical “Obama”. That sounds pretty nice — Roger Obama Thornhill. It also sounds kind of like an INSTRUCTION. My first thought is that the “O” would STILL stand for nothing.

(BUT — apparently Obama voted in favour of banning cluster-bombs and land mines, while Hilary voted against. It’s only one issue, I know, but when there’s so little useful information and distinction between the candidates…)

Alex Livingston volunteered that the “O” didn’t stand for anything because it’s really a zero. But I think that gag’s already intended by the movie, so I can’t accept it. On the other hand, it suggests that Alex really needs a copy of this film.

Blake Buesnel suggests “Orville”, like the Wright brother, and cites Thornhill’s affinity, if we can call it that, with prop aeroplanes. It’s a good answer, and shows both film knowledge and lateral thinking.

prop, or wings?

Question (2): ‘If you met a stranger on a train, what would you ask him? Say he came from Peoria, Illinois, what then? Suppose he had a magic pencil?’

Now Alex comes into his own:

“if i met a stranger from peoria, illinois on a train, i would probably ask him to use his magic pencil to draw a new set of tracks to divert the train from crashing into the downtown chicago railway station. then i would ask to borrow the pencil to dig out my liver, which i would send to roger thornhill. he could staple the liver to his meaningless “o” and this would give him an acceptable middle name”

Stranger on a Train

A question (2) answer which morphs into a question (1) answer with all the graceful  ease of Robert Patrick. Outstanding, if grisly.

Blake counters with:

“If i met a stranger from Peoria, Illinois on a train, i would ask her (think of a sharp-witted, blond) to tell me a little bit about her hometown of Peoria. After a minute, I’d ask her about that dreadful fire that took the high school library. She’d agree at the unfortunate nature of the accident. I’d agree and add that it was especially unfortunate, because Peoria lost it’s greatest treasure in the most bizarre occurrence the town had seen in years: an imaginary library being swallowed up by a fictitious 3 alarm fire. Having been found out, I’d reassure her I was just being keen, as my job as an insurance investigator allows me to be, and her secret, whatever it is, is safe with me.”

Eva's no saint 

While performing a sex change on the stranger, Blake manages to evoke Eva Maria Saint in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and also Fred MacMurray’s train-based activities in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

The judge’s decision is final, but confusing. I say that EVERYBODY has won. The two prizes will be divided among the three of you, in a manner of my choosing. I’ll be in touch to consult with you all on this.


Incidentally, the CORRECT answer to (1) is “Ordinary”, as in Wilfred “Ordinary” Smith from STAGE FRIGHT.

No Ordinary Detective