Archive for March 4, 2008

Thugs With Ugly Mugs

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

don't you believe it

Set your thrillometers to overload as I prepare to move amongst you in printed form!

The new film issue of The Believer, out v. soon, features concerted verbiage by myself and the immortal man-myth B. Kite, in a little set of blurbs dealing with the HOT TOPIC of 1930s character actors. Those of you of an American disposition, geographically speaking, should have little trouble laying your fervid fingers upon it. 

The “article”, as I understand these things are called when applied to paper, is copiously illustrated by underground cartoon hero Seth, but even more thrillinger than that, the front cover is by demigod Charles Burns and he’s chosen to feature one of the thesps I worded about, the estimable Eugene Pallette (fat guy, lower right).

“…With the body of a warehouse and a basso-profundo voice which seemed to emerge, with loud echo, from somewhere beneath the floor he stood on, Pallette was often typed as wealthy capitalists, but his weight was seldom explicitly referred to. What we got instead was the perpetual umbrage machine, the tetchiness of a man who knows for certain that his waistline is about to be mentioned or at least thought about…”

Now buy a copy and READ ON.

thundering umbrage


Goblin March Sea Dream

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

I forget which filmmaker it was (maybe Lester?) who, after he retired, was awoken one night from a horrible dream. (No, I just this instant remembered — it was William Wyler.) Mrs. Director, lying alongside, asked what was the matter. “Oh, I just had the most terrible dream. I dreamed I was directing a picture.”

Punk Elephants on Parade

I had that this morning, in my last hour of sleep. Fiona had gotten up and gone to work, I had fallen asleep again, and I dreamed I was on a beach, directing an epic based on something loosely derived from Tolkein. Probably it was “inspired” by a couple of pages from The Silmarilion (wait and see, once they’ve finished gargantuanizing The Hobbit, this WILL happen).

I had an army of orcs at my disposal, and they were engaged in a forced march to the accompaniment of drum-beats and a Volga Boatmen type choral arrangement, on playback. There were also boats in the sea, a big galleon and some smaller model ships behind it. The FX team showed me a large-ish model ship they had available, which might bulk out the fleet usefully: “It’s actually the Titanic,” they explained apologetically, “but if you put it far back enough…” I shrugged, “Sure. What the hell.”

And as the orcs slogged past (“Too slow,” argued the producer) I realised I didn’t even know where they were supposed to be going. I looked around for my 1st A.D., eventually found her, asked for a copy of the script. She handed me a folder full of CRAP, strange schematics and incomprehensible call sheets, plus a few thin pages of screenplay scattered amongst the bumf. When I looked up from this, none the wiser, I found a vast PETROL STATION had been erected.

“Isn’t it great?” asked the producer. I spluttered and fizzed incoherently. “Not for THIS scene, I know,” he explains. “For that LATER scene. I just wanted to show you. I can have it all taken away in five minutes.”

The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters

Awoke feeling incredibly groggy and reflecting on the irony that filmmaking is nothing but stress while you’re doing it, and I spend all my time wishing I was doing it. And I don’t particularly LIKE stress, mind you.

“Ordinary people spend their life avoiding tense situations. A repo man spends his life getting into tense situations.” ~ REPO MAN, Alex Cox.

Misadventures in Babysitting

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2008 by dcairns

This is a low-budget kids’ short I made for BBC Scotland and Scottish Screen’s Tartan Smalls scheme. It was fun to do Joe 90 sci-fi props and muck about with a childs’ eye view. But I guess I’ll never be Carol Reed or Alexander Mackendrick when it comes to directing kids. These boys were really good, but I didn’t know how to get the best out of them. I gained a lot of experience directing a couple episodes of a kids’ show called INTERGALACTIC KITCHEN afterwards, and feel I could do a lot better now.

But here’s how it SHOULD be done:

I like how the (very) little girl doesn’t seem to have been CONTROLLED, so much as turned loose with her dialogue. She swivels around and fidgets and she’s constantly in RANDOM MOTION, like a real kid.

It’s from THE NANNY, script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Seth Holt. S.H. was an interesting chap whose career crosses from Ealing (he produced THE LADYKILLERS) to Hammer (he died — of hiccups — while making BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB). Holt was singled out by the iconoclasts at Movie magazine as representing the best hope for British cinema to escape its literary-inspired “tradition of quality” and achieve some kind of robust, authentic, home-grown cinema. It didn’t quite happen.

Holt’s NANNY star Bette Davis described him as “a tower of evil” and “the most ruthless director I have worked with apart from William Wyler,” which I assume was intended as praise, since Bette had a tempestuous affair with Wyler and made three great films with him. I wish she’d made more with Holt! Perhaps his failure to sleep with her ended that collaboration.

Come to Nanny

I can see why Movie rated Holt so highly — he’s gutsy, clever, and in THE NANNY, genuinely inventive and capable of exercising a tight grip on the audience’s emotions. TASTE OF FEAR (AKA SCREAM OF FEAR), the film Movie singled out as showing signs of real promise, is an above-par DIABOLIQUES clone with effective frissons (a corpse seated at the bottom of a murky swimming pool traumatized a young Tom Hanks when his mother mistakenly took him to see the film!). Even a piece of hokum like BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB has points of interest, from its frenzied character performances to its knock-out ending, which seems to anticipate Polanski’s THE TENANT.

More kidstuff: THE NANNY also features a turn from Perky Pam herself, Pamela Franklin, a Shadowplay favourite for her work in THE INNOCENTS and AND SOON THE DARKNESS.