Archive for September 14, 2008

Dr Gilliam, I Presume?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by dcairns

The Imaginarium of Doctor Gilliam is the most complete retrospective of Terry Gilliam’s work ever assembled, here in Milan. They even have the excellent TV show The Last Machine, on the origins of cinema, which Gilliam presented.

In case of bumping into the reformed Python and BRAZIL auteur, I boned up by watching TIDELAND at last before I came out here. It was quite impressive, and made up for the rather sour taste left by the Weinstein-Gilliam “collaboration” THE BROTHERS GRIMM. I identified with TIDELAND’s child heroine, since she has a collection of dolls’ heads, like me. Here’s mine:

And here is Djeliza-May’s in TIDELAND:

Festival organiser Ben ushered me into The Presence of Greatness and I shook the mighty hand (Gilliam has a mighty head, shaped like a dodgem-car, and mighty gnarled and chunk hands. If Ernest Brgnine was a pair of hands, he would be these. “You were pointed out to me in your T-short and shorts,” he said, “They said, ‘He’s from Scotland, he thinks this is NICE weather.’ I do too!”

We discussed the Filmmakers’ House, which I recommended he visit. A leaking art-deco meat market (“The film business!” he chortled) seems like a Gilliam kind of place. So maybe he’ll show up to party later (he has more stamina in his 60s than I do at 40, it seems).

And in other news, they’re showing my film in the park by the castle tonight at 10.45. The weather seems to have been improving slowly all day so I hope it’s a sunny night.

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Mac Error in Milan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 14, 2008 by dcairns

General impressions.

The Castello Sforzesco is a castle populated by tourists, cats and pigeons. The cats aren’t afraid of the tourists and the pigeons aren’t afraid of the cats. Everyone lives side by side in peace and harmony like ebony and ivory on the piano keyboard, pausing occasionally to lick their privates or peck stuff off the ground. And that includes the cats and pigeons.

I passed some kind of Harley Davidson rally outside the castle. Many many bikes, plus fifty girls in halter-tops and hot pants. So many asses hanging out actually came to seem slightly gross, which surprised me. I pictured all those asses heaped together and wondered what they’d weigh.

Insomnia watch, Day 2! I think I may have actually slept last night, for ten minutes or so. Having failed with the sleeping pills, I tried tranquilisers. Not bad.

Terry Gilliam calls Italy “the sexy country” and it’s true. Asides from the legions of Claudia Cardinales haunting the streets, there’s a huge amount of public necking going on, plus ass-squeezing etc. Feel a little lonely.

I get into the meat market hostel at midnight, ahead of the other filmmakers, and rise at 9, ahead of the other filmmakers. I have only met one filmmaker. But hey, you can meet filmmakers anywhere. You can only meet film festival volunteers at a film festival.

The rain yesteday washed my sun-block off in streaks, then the blazing sun came out, so that I feared I might burn in vertical stripes, ironically just as scientists have published a study showing that such patterns are not, in fact, slimming. But I seem to be evenly brown — either tanned or just dirty.

Had a nice chat with Amy Gilliam, Terry’s daughter. It seems possible I may meet the man himself. Of course I’ll fail to find anything to say. Had a business card printed up for Shadowplay so I gave one to A.G. Briefly discussed THE BROTHERS GRIMM and the excellent making-of book which the Weinstein Bros tried to suppress. Well worth reading, and if you found the film disappointing, as I admit I did, the book will make you altogether more sympathetic to Gilliam: it’s a miracle the film that got made is at all watchable.

Four skulls without a single thought

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by dcairns

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE got bumped to the top of the Watch Pile, ahead of far worthier items like Rivette’s HURLEVENT and the Sturges-scripted THE POWER AND THE GLORY, simply because Fiona and I both grew up (if, in fact, we ever grew up) with Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies as our bible. And so a sort of mission has formed in our heads, to see every single film pictured in that quaint and curious volume.

Gifford, an appealing fan-boy writer whose works also covered British comic books and comedians, set us a formidable task by including many rare and hard-to-see movies, some of which have no historic value whatever, but had the advantage of yielding at least one eye-popping image, captured in a production still and lovingly reproduced within APHOHM‘s green-tinged dust-jacket. The idea of seeing them all was probably planted when I showed Fiona a manky tape of Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY, KILL! and she recognised the image of the little girl at the window as one she had painted in art skool. Since that initial damp glimmer, the idea of “Doing the Complete Gifford” has grown into not quite an obsession — our brains are too full of obsessions to accommodate another, unless we invest in a memory stick — but certainly something it would be fun to pursue.

I will, at some future date, append a complete list of the films we need to see. Maybe some of you Shadowplayers, all you wonderful people out there in the dark, can help source them.

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE moves with slug-like speed through a slender narrative that might furnish an entertaining half-hour, but is overstretched by the film’s rather paltry 70 mins. Perhaps the slowness is effected by the age of the cast, most of whom seem to be in the twilight of their lives and “careers”, but that aspect of the film is actually novel and welcome, especially as it gives us the great Henry Daniell, a villain’s villain if ever there was one, as the oleaginous Dr. Zurich, of Switzerland. The aged and baggy-eyed Daniell, whose face seems more than ever to be adorned with a Lone Ranger mask fashioned from his own skin, is nevertheless on chipper form as the baddie, a man with a strange and horrible secret.

Movie begins in fun fashion as Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) meditates upon a shrunken head, and is then persecuted by a vision of three hovering skulls. I call that a fine start. Sadly we then become mired in “plot”, although the graphic and detailed visual account of how to shrink a man’s head is both entertaining and informative. In addition, we have Zurich’s South American Indian henchman, Zutai (Paul Wexler), a man equipped with a string moustache, as if somebody had tried to make a shrunken head of him, sewing up his lips, but had given it up as a lost cause.

“Who am I kidding? I can’t shrink heads!” cried the student of cephalominimalism, kicking over his cauldron and discarding Zutai’s cranium without even having severed it.

Zutai’s handsome countenance was the image Gifford chose to immortalise, and along with the floating skulls, shrunken heads and moments of gore and unpleasantness (the needle that injects a paralysing fluid that simulates death!), definitely forms a highlight. Some talkie back-story establishes how Zutai became impervious to bullets, but an even more radical reveal gives us the secret of Zurich’s immortality — his head has been attached to an Indian’s body. Somehow, as a result, he is immune to the effects of old age (even though he’s clearly suffering them RIGHT NOW) and is actually 200 yrs old. This surgical miscegenation is visualised by a shot of poor old Henry with shirt open, stitching around neck and shoe-blacked torso testifying to his offense against nature. I shouldn’t be glad I saw that, but I kind of am.

Having finally captured the ageless-yet-withered Zurich, Drake procedes to murder the helpless felon by severing his head, with the full cooperation of the local police (!) and then we get a quick disintegration, leaving only —

“The fourth skull!” affirms Drake, grimly.

“Yes! It was me all along! Mwahahahahaha!”