Archive for September 6, 2008

Dr. Man and Mr. Woman

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

Adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde seem to fall into pairs…one good… one evil.

Comedy versions: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (original) = good. THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (remake) = evil.

Eurotrash versions: DR JEKYLL AND THE WOMEN = good. DR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF = evil.

Lost versions: DER JANUSKOPF (Murnau) = no doubt good. THE UGLY DUCKLING (Comfort) = probably fairly evil.

Transgender versions: DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE = good. DR JEKYLL AND MISS HYDE = pure evil.

Well, I say good, but the Hammer sex-change version is a mixture of crass errors and unexpected joys. The idea and title could strike you as cheesy, but then they have an amazing casting coup in Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick as the titular pair, their physiognomies lining up in a remarkably convincing way. “Sister Hyde” isn’t a nun, or a nurse, she’s literally alibied as Jekyll’s sister, and there’s a convincing family resemblance. Both actors seem to exude some kind of powerful pheromone that makes them appealing to gay audiences. It’s a real shame the film doesn’t find that much for Martine to do — she barely speaks, and though she clashed with Baker and Hammer films over their urge for more nudity, the film doesn’t even allow Mrs. Hyde to experience sex as a woman. They’re slightly afraid of the story’s possibilities.

Note: NEVER be afraid or ashamed of the story you’re telling! If you are, don’t tell it.

Remembering the good things, one always starts the film with high hopes, and it never fails to disappoint. The opening is truly spirited, with a foggy Victorian London set and a gory reenactment of a Jack the Ripper attack. Roy Ward Baker directs with, if not gusto, then a cheap, non-brand-name equivalent. He’s a bit zoom-happy, and I always feel he wasn’t quite happy in the horror genre that Hammer landed him in (although his QUATERMASS AND THE PIT is a favourite), but he does some interesting things with the camera and creates a bit of pace and atmos, helped immensely by Norman Warwick’s misty night cinematography, all shafts of light and lurking silhouettes. Production designer Robert Jones, following screenwriter Brian Clemens from TV’s The Avengers, designs the exteriors in monochrome, so that splashes of red photograph more brightly.

First transformation: Bates to Beswick in one shot: the camera wobbles around Bates as he crouches in an armchair before a full length mirror. With his head in shot the whole time, we end on his back, looking past Beswick reflected back at us in the glass. At first I thought this was a fake mirror, really a door leading into a duplicate set, as in the Mamoulian version — but no! Just a real mirror angles so as to reflect Beswick, sitting ALONGSIDE Bates, moving in synchronisation with her.

Beswick, and the shoulder of Bates.

Doing a transgender Jekyll isn’t enough for writer Clemens, he fuses Jekyll with Jack the Ripper (Jekyll needs to harvest fresh organs to supply him with female hormones for his experiments) and throws in Burke and Hare as well (in the wrong city, 60 years after Burke was executed, long after medical grave-robbing was effectively stamped out). This is either way too much of a good thing, or not quite enough. But I like the way Hare gets blinded by an angry mob and transforms into the blind “witness” from Fritz Lang’s M.

My problem is more with blending real and fake horror. Anyone who’s researched the Ripper case, as Fiona and I did for a screenplay entitled THE DAUGHTERS OF JOY (still available if there are any takers) will realise that the Whitechapel murders are not funny. Of course, there was very little Ripper lit when Clemens wrote his screenplay, so I guess the nostalgically safe horror of Madame Tussaud’s was easier to swallow. But within  just a few years, the idea of an anonymous madman murdering impoverished working girls would cease to be so distant. And I still don’t see what could really have struck anybody as funny about it.

Fun stuff —

Beswick whipping together a slinky red outfit from a pair of curtains in mere seconds, like a wicked Von Trapp kid. The buying an even slinkier red dress, which Fiona admired (though not as much as she covets Fenella Fielding’s outfit from CARRY ON SCREAMING). I thought the cossie was a bit fancy dress, like something for an Anne Summers costume party, but Fiona thinks that may be the point: “Remember, it was bought by a man.”

The not-quite gratuitous scene of Martine examining her new breasts before the mirror — it’s what would happen. That, or she might curl up in a ball bemoaning the loss of her wedding tackle. It’s followed by an even more surprisingly blatant shot: as she squeezes her bosom, she notices that the hand doing the squeezing is now male. A lot of the transitions are done this way, with Bates’ hands suddenly womaning out on him at odd moments.

The first transition also features a cutaway of one of those little weather houses, where the man disappears into one door and the woman emerges from another. A witty touch, in a film that more often resorts to enjoyably shit lines like “Burke by name and berk by nature!”

We were also amused by the “ironic” death scene, where Jekyll, fleeing over the rooftops, loses his grip on a drainpipe thanks to Hyde’s weak, womanish fingers, and falls to his/her death/s. And for the only time in a J&H film, Hyde does not revert to a peaceful Jekyll in death — instead we get a mutant hermaphrodite, face split between Bates and Beswick (by way of a crude makeup) like the Janus-face of Bergman’s PERSONA.

Two-Face.
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Mr. Hyde in Edinburgh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

A few unoriginal comments on Stevenson’s original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It’s been said before that the story has a lot of RLS’s hometown of Edinburgh about it. Although the given setting is London, with Hyde’s hideaway explicitly identified as a Soho address (that disreputable district, long home to the theatre and sex industries, would later also house the major British film companies, including Hammer House), Stevenson must have been influenced by his home city as he wrote the tale, in those two feverish overnight drafts.

Right at the start, when Hyde commits his first child-trampling, Stevenson introduces on the scene an Edinburgh doctor, described as “the usual cut-and-dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe.” This man actually typifies most of the characters, apart from J&H, who populate the narrative. In fact, the lawyer Utterson is introduced as the most boring man in literature, and this is part of a consistent tactic to surround the arguably melodramatic title character with dry, methodical and sober-minded characters, creating a stifling normal world for Hyde to erupt into. These characteristics typify somewhat the puritan, Calvinistic ethos of 19th century Edinburgh, still somewhat in the air today.

Edinburgh is a schizoid city. In Stevenson’s day it was divided between Old Town and New. The New Town is Georgian, enlightened, civilised, luxurious in a restrained way. The streets resemble Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street, and exude dignity and rationality.

The Old Town is jumbled, chaotic, a mixture of periods and styles. Narrow closes open onto tilting and dishevelled thoroughfares, arranged down the sprawl of the High Street. These are the haunts of Burke and Hare, whose exploits inspired Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher (filmed by Val Lewton and Robert Wise), and Deacon Brodie, a respectable cabinet-maker and son of a town councillor who led a double life as a burglar. He’s played by Billy Connolly in a TV movie.

Sewage was still emptied out of windows in the Old Town in Stevenson’s day, to flow through the gutters, spreading disease and foul odours. (You cried “Gardyloo!” as you tipped your bucket, a bastard French version of “Look out below!”) So Edinburgh had a divided personality much like Jekyll and Hyde.

Today the Old Town, cleaned up a bit, is the tourist centre, leading as it always does between Holyrood Palace and the Castle. The New Town provides office space, shops and expensive homes. The dark side of Edinburgh has been exported to run down council estates like Muirhouse. (“In Muirhouse, no one can hear you scream. Well, we can. We just dinnae gie a fuck.” ~ Irvine Welsh.) The town council satisfies itself with keeping the centre safe and decorous, allowing the outlying slums to go to hell.

Sad to report, the young lead of Bill Douglas’s esteemed trilogy (MY CHILDHOOD, MY AIN FOLK, MY WAY HOME) was trapped by poverty in one of these areas, and succumbed to crime, drugs and an early death. They are places of despair.

“The figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night; and if at any time he dozed over, it was but to see it glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly, and still the more swiftly, through wider labyrinths of lamp-lighted city, and at every street corner crush a child and leave her screaming.”

Disc-ombobulated

Posted in FILM with tags , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

Quality control — although most of the DVDs going out in my Great Duvivier Giveaway should contain only one track, LA FIN DU JOUR, several actually contain two false starts. Before screening, customers are advised to go to the menu and select the third item, to avoid interruption of the viewing experience.

Delivery — no effort has been spared to ensure that your movie reaches you in the same appalling condition it was in when posted — eventually. Delivery may take so long that some of you, particularly those with a Transatlantic handicap, may wonder if it is coming at all. Wonder no more!

Special cut-price arrangements have been made for overseas delivery. A top bicycle courier will be ferrying the precious cargo across the ocean in a waterproofed burlap sack assembled by some of Britain’s most esteemed convicted criminals. Fresh oxygen tanks have been dropped by helicopter every five miles, so as long as he stays on course and keeps finding them, he’ll be fine. Of course, bicycle wheels tend to churn up a lot of dust and whatnot on the ocean floor, and the poor man’s lamp can only penetrate so far in the stygian gloom of the abyssal depths, so bear with us if delays are experienced.

On arriving at the Eastern coast of the U.S., after a brief recuperation on Easter Island, our man will relay the individual packages to a more reliable form of transport, the lungfish. This sturdy denizen of the deep is capable of transforming its gills into crude lungs, allowing it to wriggle short distances across dry land. We have every confidence that our fleet of lungfishes will be able to effect a rapid distrubution of the complimentary discs throughout the North American area.

Meanwhile, in the Former United Kingdom, copies continue to scoot — by second class mail no less — to corners of the realm as remote as Sheffield. Anybody who wants to treat the movie like a chain letter and immediately knock off ten copies and post them to friends, will be thrice blest.

Keep watching the mailboxes!