Archive for April 16, 2008

Hazel.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

Was saddened to read on Tim Lucas’ Video Watchblog that Hazel Court has died. I always felt she didn’t get her due as an actress — her wicked comic turn in Corman’s THE RAVEN is a high point in a film also loaded with stars Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, all of whom are very funny. Corman’s advice to juvenile lead Jack Nicholson was “Just try to be as funny as the old guys.” The callow Nicholson failed, but Court more than holds her own. The fact that she’s astonishingly lovely and voluptuous helps, of course.

In her other roles — many of the most memorable ones in horror films — she doesn’t get to shine comedically, but she’s a sultry satanist in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, engaging in a bizarre hallucinatory, sado-masochistic ritual in order to be initiated into DARK SECRETS OF THE OCCULT. Gamely, she allows cinematographer Nic Roeg to distort her lovely face this way and that with his WEIRD LENSES (actually, maybe an optical effect?)

Hammer films tended to cast her in good girl roles, as in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, mostly thankless parts for an actress of Court’s range, although she always played plucky heroines rather than bimbos.

I’ll be raising a glass of whatever’s handy in honour of the great H.C. when I get a copy, at last, of DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, possibly her first genre film, in which a shiny-costumed lesbian dominatrix from space terrorises H.C. and Adrienne Corri in a Scottish pub, thus neatly fulfilling a requirement of Brit sci-fi-horrors, according to I.Q. Hunter’s excellent study, British Science Fiction Cinema — at some point the protagonists must and should RETIRE TO PUB AND AWAIT END OF WORLD.

A partial list of RTPAAEOW films:

THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE

QUATERMASS II

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT

SHAUN OF THE DEAD

…but there are many more.

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BOOM

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

ÉCOUTE LES TEMPS is a moody French drama with supernatural elements. We had a particular interest in the subject because it relates a bit to Fiona’s last feature script, written for the delightful Terry Gross who’s trying to set it up as a low budget production. Both stories deal with supernatural SOUNDS, heard in the home of a dead loved one.

Early in the film there’s a strange black shape visible at the top of frame in a couple of shots. It stays in position as the camera pans, and I realised it’s the matte box, an apparatus on the front of the camera that’s used for attaching filters. It shouldn’t be in shot!

“The DVD must be showing too much of the image — this is stuff that was supposed to be masked out,” I said. Dogwoof Pictures, who released the film, should have taken more care. “If this keeps up, there’ll be some boom mics in shot too,” and sure enough, a little later:

The Shaggy Dog

Check the “shaggy dog” microphone baffler hovering above the guy’s head, top centre. But I thought THIS was going a bit far:

Not really, of course, that last one is deliberate, since our protag, Charlotte (Émilie Dequenne) is a sound recordist investigating her mother’s murder in a cottage that seems to have somehow recorded the events that transpired within: her microphone picks up audio flashbacks from different periods depending where in space she positions it. A rather fascinating idea, akin to Nigel Kneale’s TV play The Stone Tape, which develops very slowly from a methodical, low-key treatment. Our heroine takes to marking out her flat with lengths of twine, stretched through the time-space like an LSD-fuelled spider’s web, or like the elaborate defense mechanism constructed by the hero of Cronenberg’s SPIDER.

The purpose of Charlotte’s web is to pinpoint the exact point in space that stores the sounds of the murder being committed.

I lightly liked this — a reasonably standard Hollywood structure based on a really smart idea, and treated in a gradual, unfussed, very French manner. Hyping stuff up would have hurt it, and rendered it plastic and overfamiliar like the worst aspects of THE ORPHANAGE. What first-time writer/director Alanté Kavaïté loses in moment-by-moment drama, she gains in conviction, and a pace and tone that feel unusual when applied to this kind of material. Although her soundtrack throbs with constant reverberant atmospheres, the film reminded me a tiny bit of Jacques Rivette’s very quiet ghost story L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIENNE, which appropriately contains the ghost of a microphone boom.

I shall explain. Early on, Julienne picks up his cat and lies down. The cat sees something overhead — an offscreen mic, is my guess — and its attention is rivetted, if you’ll excuse the pun bollocks. Julienne asks the cat if it can hear somebody moving about upstairs. There’s nobody upstairs, of course — or nobody of this world.

All That Gab

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by dcairns

A Fever Dream Double Feature, doubled:

Position 69, Production Code style

As part of Otto Preminger week some while back (remember, when the world went Otto MAD?) I attempted to watch THE MOON IS BLUE, figuring it had to be of some interest. And it kind of is, purely from the point of view of Otto’s elegant mise-en-scene. Some of today’s directors could learn a lot from Otto’s laid-back but economical but simultaneously kinda florid filming style. Some of today’s directors are beyond help, but many of those with a bit of talent could raise their game by studying what Otto does with the camera and the actors together — the DANCE.

But despite the panache shown in the camera blocking department, I couldn’t get through the thing (Cue standard mumblings about how the film’s daring-at-the-time defiance of the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency by permitting the utterance by characters of forbidden words like “pregnant” and “virgin” are no longer shocking. Cue perplexity that Catholics would object to these words when their entire religion hinges on a story about a pregnant virgin). It wasn’t that the sexual attitudes had dated and no longer titillated — there are plenty of romcoms and even sexcoms from this period and before and later where that just isn’t a factor in the massive amounts of entertainment dished up (although the sexcoms tend to date more than the romcoms, they eventually come around to being very enjoyable with a dash of irony). It was that the whole thing was unfunny, ponderous, smug, glib and extremely irritating.

Magic

Despite the IMDb’s listing, I suspect that F. Hugh Herbert, author of the play and screenplay, is also the writer of THE GREAT GABBO, a bad movie I can heartily recommend for it’s stupendous negative entertainment value and inspired lack of good judgement — Erich Von Stroheim doing cross-talk comedy, unpleasantly fast musical numbers, dancing insect people — the film with everything you never wanted.

I suddenly flashed on the perfect companion film for TMIB — TWO FOR THE ROAD. My God that’s annoying. The comparisons don’t end there. Both films feature attractive, personable leads, seemingly enjoying themselves, their co-stars and their material. Everything is in place for audience pleasure, except that the material (script by Frederic Raphael, in the case of TWO-FER) — and by material I basically mean dialogue, since that’s what you get — is nauseatingly whimsical and pleased with itself. While Stanley Donen doesn’t shoot with quite Preminger’s flair for blocking, he did, with cinematographer Christopher Challis (see also: the later Powell & Pressburger films; and THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) break new ground in filming car scenes without process photography, and the film serves up the usual delightful Audrey Hepburn fashion show.

Pylon

But despite these virtues, I say this: if you ever find yourself faced with the necessity of performing an atrocity of some kind (a high school massacre, perhaps, or a spot of ethnic cleansing) and you feel a little too kind-hearted, too fond of humanity to really put your full enthusiasm into the task, watching these films back to back would probably turn you into a modern Genghis. But I don’t actually recommend this — incredible as it seems, the world is already violent enough.

The London Nobody Knows

Instead I recommend Patrick Keiller’s LONDON and ROBINSON IN SPACE, which will induce a dreamy, floaty, focussed-yet-sleepy form of happiness, relieving stress and gentle massaging the muscles of your soul.