Archive for May 7, 2008

Bea negative

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2008 by dcairns

Hat Trick

Jon Tuska’s Encounters With Filmmakers is pretty interesting, especially the section on Welles. In the space of 48 pages he goes from defending Welles to attacking him, in a way that suggests some personal score is being settled, though what it was isn’t recorded. But it is somewhat illuminating with regards to one of the great mysteries of Welles scholarship: what IS IT with Beatrice Welles?

Welles’ daughter, who appears in his CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, has impacted on Welles’, shall we say, postmortem career in two ways. Firstly, as inheritor of his version of OTHELLO, she has made the film available in a “restored” form that is not to everyone’s liking. This version has had the music transcribed and re-recorded (Welles’ original soundtrack had been damaged when release prints were made), the voices electronically adjusted to be more in synch with the lip movements (arguably an improvement, but in no sense a restoration, since the film, dubbed from first scene to last, had always been awash with lip-flap) and printed credits inexplicably favoured over Welles’ spoken ones (the restorers apparently were unaware of the existence of the narrated opening, although it appears in Leslie Megahey’s BBC profile The Orson Welles Story, which should be essential viewing for anybody engaged in Welles scholarship — check it out on YouTube).

Secondly, Beatrice Welles has sued or threatened to sue most of the other parties engaged in restoring her father’s work. Most famously, she has delayed work on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, a late Welles film apparently all ready to be cut together into screenable form, provided somebody is willing to pay to extract the footage from the bank vault it is stored in (Welles’ chief backer was the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law, leading to financial difficulties when the Ayatollah took command of Iran) and pay for the post-production work. Whenever a backer comes forward and shows interest, Beatrice scares them off.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

But Beatrice also threatened those behind the restored TOUCH OF EVIL (which isn’t 100% perfect but is far more respectful than her own restoration of OTHELLO), causing the film to be withdrawn from the 50th Cannes Film Festival. She had absolutely no legal claim to ownership or artistic rights over this film, but Cannes being an auteuristkind of show, they pulled the film rather than deal with any controversy from the daughter of a great Palm D’Or-winning director.

The Stand

Tuska ~ “He left $10, 000 each to his three daughters from his three marriages while dividing the bulk of his estate between [Paola Mori] his third wife and his mistress of many years, Oja Kodar, with an additional provision that should Paola die, then all that remained of his estate should go to Oja.”

And ~ “Other than the cash bequests to his three daughters, Oja received the Los Angeles home and all its contents, Paola the home in Las Vegas, its contents, and whatever money would be left. Paola contested the will, in large measure I believe because of the provision that upon her death everything would revert to Oja rather than to Beatrice. A hearing was scheduled for 14 August 1986. Two days before, on 12 August 1986, Paola was killed in an automobile accident a short distance from her home in Las Vegas. Oja Kodar got everything by default.”

I think it’s understandable that Beatrice Welles, having simultaneously lost a mother and been cheated of an inheritance by fate, might have conflicted feelings towards her father. He not only divorced left her mother and was probably absent for much of her childhood, he left her a rather paltry sum and placed restrictions on her mother’s inheritance (I’m amazed that’s even legal — if you leave somebody something, isn’t it then THEIR property?) Welles was of course quite entitled to leave the bulk to Oja Kodar, who had been a loyal companion during his autumn years, in a relationship which lasted longer than any of his marriages.

Beatrice, with a mixture of love, resentment, a proprietorial feeling for her father’s work, and anger at the criticism of the restored OTHELLO, much of which came from people involved in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, is now a potential obstacle to any Welles restoration ventures — I’m amazed she allowed Kodar and Jesus Franco’s version of DON QUIXOTE (the one truly indefensible Welles “restoration”) to be screened. Perhaps the thing was so cheaply assembled that the makers were indifferent to legal bluffs.

(Film historian and filmmaker Kevin Brownlow was approached by Kodar during the QUIXOTE process. She had been driving around Europe with Welles’s rushes in a van — although as much as a third of what Welles had shot was in the hands of one of his cinematographers, who was refusing to deal with Kodar. [The Welles legacy is riven with feuds, it seems!] Brownlow looked at the material and could see no way to make sense of it. Welles had claimed the film was virtually complete, but the material was haphazardly logged and boarded, and without Welles to explain his intent, inexplicable. Brownlow regretfully passed, Kodar kept looking until she found former Welles associate Jesus Franco, who made an offer too low to refuse.)

Mirror

I suggest anyone trying to restore a Welles film should visit Beatrice first and get her on-side, if possible. However cantankerous and obstructive her behaviour thus far, her feelings are at least understandable. It’s a great shame that the personal hurt she has experienced is now depriving others of the pleasure of seeing her father’s films as they should be seen.

“Isn’t it a bit old-hat?”

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2008 by dcairns

Kenneth Branagh usually comes up with some interesting directorial strategies. The trouble is, they usually don’t work, and neither do the films. He’s inventive, ambitious, and courageous, but I somehow never feel he’s a natural film-maker.

Nevertheless, some critics were perhaps too nasty about SLEUTH. The film unites an interesting bunch of people, looks very handsome, and is easy enough to watch. There are good bits. Harold Pinter’s reworking of Anthony Shaffer’s play is often amusing.

JL: “Maggie never told me you were… such a manipulator. She told me you were no good in bed, but she never told me you were such a manipulator.”
MC: “She told you I was no good in bed?”
JL: “Oh, yes.”
MC: “She was joking. I’m wonderful in bed.”
JL: “I must tell her.”

As in the original, a successful thriller writer confronts the much younger man who has made off with his wife, and a variety of vicious mind-games are played. Pinter dispenses with Shaffer’s critique of the English mystery novel tradition, leaving the piece as simply another Pinter power-play of pauses. Even the title becomes irrelevant.

One can’t escape the fact that the gimmick casting — Michael Caine returns from the original Joe Mankiewicz version, but playing the other part, Jude Law, who’s already played a Caine role in the ALFIE remake, plays Caine’s part from the original –  is a titillating concept, but not necessarily the best way to fill the parts. Olivier, in the original film, stood boldly for the English establishment, and Caine was the working-class upstart — it was almost too perfect. With cockney Caine as the rich author and the vaguely classless Law as his romantic rival, the distinction is lost. But more important is what Branagh can get out of these actors in the way of acting.

Caine starts off like he’s trying for poshness, perhaps imitating Alan Bates (a fine interpreter of Pinter), which is a bit queasy. The it starts to feel like he doesn’t know his lines well enough — little hesitations and bodging of the difficult bits are either methody additions or genuine screw-ups, and either way they’re harmful to Pinter’s rhythms. But gradually Caine’s undiminished charm and inexplicable authority work their spell, and he becomes enjoyable.

Law is fine when he underplays, and rather embarassing when he tries too hard. He’s a star when he just holds the camera’s gaze. Some insecurity forces him to spoil it by doing stuff, and the effort shows. He’s probably most useful when he’s being tormented by Caine, since some evil part of this viewer derives some pleasure from seeing Law having a hard time. Later, he will do foolish things with a loaded pistol, much like the detective in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Nobody would call this prime Pinter. Although the Great Man has written screen thrillers successfully in the past (THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, under-valued) here there are odd, damaging implausibilities. Why does Caine have an automated rope ladder in his stately home? Why does Law take his gun from his holster for no reason, lay it on the bed for no reason, thus allowing Caine to grab it at the climax? That’s quite bad playwriting, or direction.

What makes the film watchable? The set, designed by Branagh’s regular collaborator Tim Harvey, is very nice, all shiny surfaces and disco lighting, and the photography of Haris Zambarloukos serves up innumerable great widescreen close-ups. But the James Bond lair doesn’t make much sense, and is part of the overall watering-down of Shaffer’s original concept, the conflict between tradition and progress. The Bond vibe is both apt and ironic, since original Bond designer Ken Adam created the look of the original SLEUTH,

The stylised environment is doubtless meant to provide a comfortable setting for the stylised talk, but Pinter’s verbal gymnastics are defiantly archaic, and sound more so amid these glossy surfaces and pointless hi-tech appurtenances. I’m reminded of the grand staircase in FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S KENNETH BRANAGH’S MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (I think that’s the full title), which has no bannister and makes you nervous to look at it. It’s quite an interesting effect, but you can’t help wonder WHY would anybody have a stair like that in their house?

This next is a bit spoilerific — if you’ve read the above and still plan on seeing SLEUTH, skip this last stuff.

Full disclosure — Stephen Murphy, prosthetic makeup artist for Jude Law, did the make-up on my clown film and is a good friend. He’s been working on HARRY POTTERS and stuff, turning ex-porn dwarfs into goblins, working his way up, and this is is his biggest job yet. Oddly, the transformation reminds me of another make-up creation, even though Stephen didn’t design the Law job.

It’s the Ringo Starr/Mexican bandit look Stephen created for Alice Bicknell in my film CLARIMONDE using mainly liquid latex and wet tissue paper. I’m also reminded of another makeup creation, Reece Shearsmith as Geoff Tipps in THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN:

I am a man

Even the voice is the same! The transformation works OK until Law starts overdoing it again, which makes him more recognisable. Stephen reports that Law was a very nice chap to work with, which is about what I’d expect, actually. Hitting the odd paparazzo doesn’t make him a bad guy, in fact I give him points for it, even though I’m anti-violence.

In the original SLEUTH, make-up artist Tom Smith, required to transform Michael Caine completely, executed a self-portrait, changing Caine into a Smith clone. I asked Stephen if he’d been tempted to do the same, but alas, he hadn’t known. What might have been REALLY interesting would have been if the remake’s make-up DESIGNER, Eileen Kastner-Delago, had given Law a sex change and made him over in her own image.

Made Up

Sexual ambiguity does enter the picture in the last act, with both Caine and Law suggesting bisexual sides, a motif borrowed from Sidney Lumet and Ira levin’s DEATHTRAP, the low-rent version of SLEUTH — Caine, having kissed Christopher “Superman” Reeve, now kisses “Sky Captain”. But this additional twist leads to no new dramatic suspense, and certainly doesn’t carry the mild shock value it did in 1982 (“But it’s so juicy,” Lumet pleaded, when Reeve objected to the kiss). As with the despised DIABOLIQUE, the re-makers try to preserve the twist surprise by adding a further wrinkle to the already-creased story, but it does nothing but drag the film long past its emotional climax… which is about half an hour in.

For all that, the film is diverting, short, and at least it has a different set of flaws from the ones we’re used to seeing all the time. Any bets on what the next Michael Caine remake will be?

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