Archive for April 25, 2008

Fog Fog Fog

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2008 by dcairns

We started watching ’70s horror BURNT OFFERINGS, and within twenty minutes Fiona was telling me it wasn’t even worth blogging about. A few possible angles did present themselves — the father/mother/son triad arriving by car seemed like a very close match to THE SHINING, and the concept of a building with an inner life of its own seemed relevant to Kubrick’s MUCH BETTER FILM.

Karen Black and Ollie Reed and Better Davis are of course hugely watchable, but Burgess Mereditch takes the acting honours for a dementedly camp turn as a chair-bound nutter.

For a while I thought I might write about the sheer dullness of it all (half an hour in and literally NOTHING has happened) but that might get dull, and as we resorted to the fast-forward button in order to get to the (impressively apocalyptic) ending, it became unfair to really comment on the film at all. So forget that I said it was dull, OK? I’m not qualified to pass judgement because I didn’t watch it.

But I thought I could mention the fashionable ’70s fog filter, which diffuses the whole film with a hazy smear. Then Ollie Reed has a nightmare and things get MAJORLY DIFFUSE:

The haziness is actually fine here — pretty pictures! — but damaging elsewhere because in the story the house is supposed to heal itself, and the filtration kind of blurs the textures so you can’t tell. When Karen Black stares in alarm, the filmmakers have to dub a line over the back of her head, where she expresses her surprise that the house has, in fact, seemingly improved its appearance in an unexpected way. Gosh!

Nestor Almendros used to walk out of films as soon as he saw diffusion being used, which does strike me as a bit hard-line. But in setting rules for himself, Almendros was really shifting himself out of the craftsman-for-hire category and repositioning the cinematographer as an artist in collaboration with the director. If you want extreme artificial lighting effects and filters and so on, get a cinematographer who doesn’t mind working that way — get Mario Bava! Almendros had one particular approach, and if you hired him you knew sort of what you were going to get.

Looking at BURNT OFFERINGS, I’m glad diffusion went out of style. But I wonder if it could be used in an interesting way now. No technique is actually bad in and of itself, I feel. What’s bad is default filmmaking that picks the fashionable approach without regard to the effect desired.

Director Dan Curtis tracks into close-up. Fiona says: “Karen Black’s face is unhappy.”

Quote of the Day: Upping the ante-rooms

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2008 by dcairns

Legendary production designer Ken Adam discusses designing the Marquess of Queensbury’s reception room for THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE, after the budget had run out:

“Well, it was hard because a) the money had run out and b) I didn’t have time to do research about what Queensbury’s castle in Scotland looked like. So what I decided to do was a complete stylisation using all the classical elements of the St. James’s Theatre and the Café Royal. The only new design element was a very tall, slender French window with a circular top at the end of the set. Then I used Georgian doors from the St James’s and I painted the whole floor like Siena marble. I had a very good painter and it was beautifully done. Then I had the idea of treating the set in two colours only — terracotta for the walls, and everything else in black — because it was after the funeral. I talked the director, Ken Hughes, into dressing all tyhe actors in black. And the whole set was built in a forced perspective. It was the first time that I got recognition for my work from the critics and others: Luchino Visconti was President of the Moscow Film Festival in 1961 and he gave me first prize for best design.”

a) Adam often seems to have done his best work in desperate circumstances. The strongest, strangest set in DR. NO, the first of the many Bond films he designed, is the bare room with the round skylight — Dr. No’s ante-room. It was built for £450 as an afterthought, and it supplies the just note of stylisation that later Bond films built from.

No room

b) Ken Hughes is an underrated filmmaker and I must do more about him. I’m hoping the forthcoming BBC series on British B-movies will show some of his cheapies. I find his bloated extravaganzas like CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and CROMWELL rather endearing, but I have a feeling his best work might lie in his low-budget crime thriller output. I haven’t even managed to see the bigger-budget extensions of that, JOE MACBETH and THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE.

c) My friend Lawrie once loaned a flat to Hughes and got complaints from the landlady about some kind of unspeakable parties… Lawrie called Hughes “the dirtiest man i ever met.” All simply too, too intriguing!

d) The quote up top comes from Ken Adam The Art of Production Design by the esteemed Professor Sir Christopher Frayling. I know that’s the correct way to give him his titles, but I have a sneaking preference for “Sir Christopher Professor Frayling” and I have a feeling that if I ever meet the poor man that’s what I’ll call him, whether I intend to our not.


Ken Adam.