Congruence #1

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Congruence — what an ugly word! The above images conclude Buster Keaton’s COLLEGE (credited to James W Horne, but we know better). Not the first time Keaton ended a comedy with a gravestone — the marker inscribed “Buster” at the end of COPS is the best-known example, and inspired my own CRY FOR BOBO’s clown funeral scene.

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The ending of John Boorman’s much-maligned dystopian wankathon ZARDOZ. Note ~

1) The first child, posture, expression and position in frame = comedy gold.

2) Framing, in its formality and flatness, is even more Keaton-like than the Keaton.

3) Extremely funny bad OAP makeup, especially on la Rampling.

4) Friendly skeletons. “The grave’s a fine and noble place / But none I think do there embrace.”

Both the Boorman jockstrap-and-bandolier epic, and Buster Keaton’s minor-league but still-spectacular flap shoe romance, are the only two films I can think of, off the top of my head (the only part of it I can access without cranial surgery) that end quite this way, on a cheery fast-forward to senescence and death. Seeming to give the lie to the concept of the happy ending. As Dorothy Parker told Sam Goldwyn ~

“Sam, I hate to tell you this, but of all the people who have ever lived in the history of the human race, not one of them ever had a happy ending.”

Great exit line.

Goldwyn: “What the hell did she mean by that?”

Turning it on its head, maybe we could retrieve the happy ending by endorsing Val Lewton’s note to the front office, when they had warned him against “message movies” as he prepared to make ISLE OF THE DEAD ~

“I’m sorry to say that our picture does have a message, and that message is: Death is Good.”

Anyhow, I don’t think influence is at work here. I’ve never heard Boorman talk about Keaton. And the fact that, incredibly, both men made films called THE GENERAL seems more to indicate a lack of appreciation by Boorman rather than a desire to pay homage.

Interested parties can do me some good by buying these products here, if you’re UK:

Zardoz [DVD] [1974]

Buster Keaton – College / Steamboat Bill Jr. / Three Ages [DVD] [1927]

And here, if you’re USA:

Zardoz

The Art of Buster Keaton (The General / Sherlock, Jr. / Our Hospitality / The Navigator / Steamboat Bill Jr. / College / Three Ages / Battling Butler / Go West / The Saphead / Seven Chances / 21 Short Films)

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40 Responses to “Congruence #1”

  1. Charlotte Rampling is an auteur.

  2. She was brilliant in Ozon’s Under the Sand – among other things.

    Love that Parker line. And also love how a related post is titled “Jackie Chan is really a white man who died in 1966.”

  3. Christopher Says:

    ..as old granny Audie Bell McPherson used to say of Sean Connery…”Hes no Buster Keaton!..”

  4. >dystopian wankathon

    A much maligned genre.

    I still have memories of laughing out loud in the theater at the finaleof “Zardoz.”

    As for “happy death” endings … wasn’t there something of the sort with the mingled dust at the end of the Quinn/Lollobrigida “Notre Dame de Paris”?

  5. I think Boorman might have had his sense of humour surgically removed – the only director I’ve ever met who took himself quite as seriously was Boorman protegé Neil Jordan. However, in his defence, Boorman is wonderful on the subject of Lee Marvin, who he clearly loved.

  6. I think the way to watch a Boorman is to either leave your sense of humour outside and surrender to The Vision, or to laugh your ass off. Maybe only Point Blank can be appreciated as seriously good with a sense of the absurd attached. I mean, Zardoz has things that are undoubtedly meant to be surreal, quirky. He just doesn’t realise that if you smile at Arthur Frayn, you’ll bust a gut at Connery.

    Rampling strides serene and unruffled through the whole thing and absurdity is as water off a duck’s back with her.

    The Allegret Hunchback — written by Jean Aurenche (see yesterday’s Forgotten) comes close, although death comes naturally at the close of that story, I think. Boorman speeds up time to show that the natural order of life and death has been restored. I can dig that. Keaton’s sabotaging of his own happy ending is particularly strange, especially as it’s not particularly funny. But that makes it all the more interesting, hinting at either a point where his SoH departs from the norm, or an underlying morbidity (his comic universe is certainly a particularly hostile one, where inanimate objects want you to join them in that happy state, and will kill you to make it happen).

  7. I liked Charlotte Rampling in Ozon’s Under the Sand.

    I’m a big fan of Lee Marvin. I think he’s wonderful in Ford’s Donovan’s Reef and William Fraker’s Monte Walsh, one of my favourite films.

  8. I actually find Deliverance a lot more watchable than Point Blank. It’s the only Boorman film where I feel I’m in completely safe hands, Point Blank’s still trying a bit too hard. Extraordinary to think this was the same man behind Excalibur (which he only made because he couldn’t get the money to make Lord of the Rings, they’re being presumably not enough money in the world to make Lord of the Rings). It’s odd because every time I’ve seen him interviewed he comes across as incredibly decent and fun.

  9. Rampling’s enjoying a dream career, it seems. All thanks to the French.

    Marvin was quite a piece of work — complex and tormented, but capable of being so generous and affable. And SMART. He always livens up a film, and I like him even better as a hero than as a villain. Although he could combine the two with total unapologetic fearlessness.

  10. Boorman often seems JOLLY, but that’s different from having an actual sense of humour. Nobody with a sense of humour could have made Exorcist II or even the once-overrated The Emerald Forest (never has a film leaned so heavily upon its “based on a true story” tag to pass over such glaring implausibilities).

    Deliverance is indeed very fine. In that case, I think the contained story and terrain kept him grounded. He has some nutty theories about the story (“No man who was truly in touch with nature would have been injured the way Reynolds’ character was,”) but fortunately they don’t show in the film.

  11. I can’t take Boorman seriously in interviews ever since Charlie Higson or Graham Lineham revealed that he was the inspiration for the Ted and Ralph sketches on the Fast Show. The sketch idea came from a documentary about his life and work (South Bank?) in a scene where he struggled to make idle conversation with his own tacitum gamekeeper.
    Now I can hear it in his voice every time he’s interviewed. Similar effect with another Fast Show character and Nic Roeg…

    I like Boorman’s work on the whole though-especially the British stuff as a kind of reaction against “British realism”
    I know almost every film of his I’ve seen is really uneven (Deliverance-the exception) and Excalibur and Zardoz are absolutely ridicuolus at times but they’re boldy so. They fail on their own terms-no apologies, as though Boorman really were from another planet.Always an admireable trait.
    I think The General is his best. Balances a really complicated character and a very stylish brash work, not an old man’s film at all, plus I’m a sucker for modern black and white.

    I hope his new CGI Wizard of Oz works out, looks a bit bland at the the moment-I think it needs more Boorman.

  12. I realize it’s not him, but it looks like Sean and Charlotte gave birth to Eric Stoltz. Charlotte also gave birth in GEORGY GIRL, couldn’t wait to pass the baby off onto Georgy, frumpy Lynn Redgrave. So glad to see an appreciation of Lee Marvin, who I think was just an outstanding presence in films. Roger Ebert once told a story about Marvin in front of an audience in Chicago. Back in the late Sixties he’d been assigned to interview the actor, and met up with him in his hotel room, along with Lee’s girlfriend, her dog, and his agent. The agent was sent off to purchase refreshments, and at some point after he’d left the dog came out of the bedroom with a pair of woman’s panties in its mouth. Marvin’s girlfriend asks, “Where’d those come from?” Marvin says, “Those are yours.” “Those aren’t mine”, she responds. There’s a brief silence, then Marvin says, wagging his finger at the canine, “Bad dog. Bad dog.”
    Marvin’s Chino in THE WILD ONE was so much more the real biker than Brando, whose fastidious dress made him look more like a pretender than the genuine article. Actually, Brando looks very Tom of Finland here, or is it the other way around?

  13. ——————————-
    Ted and Ralph sketches on the Fast Show
    ——————————–
    Brilliant.

  14. Wow, I hadn’t heard the Ted and Ralph thing! Yes, Sir Rowley Birkin’s mumbled reminiscences are Nic Roeg to a tee.

    The astonishing Marvin story I heard was about his war experience (squeamish persons skip this whole post). Now, Marvin got shot in the ass quite early on, but he did see action, during which he killed a Japanese soldier with his father’s pistol, which he’d somehow managed to bring along. He was just crawling off when it occurred to him that his father might like a souvenir of this event. Returning to the corpse, he noticed the slain combatant had a lot of gold teeth, so he tried to smash them out with his gun handle. But they all fell down the guy’s throat. So Marvin crawled off again. A little later, he had an idea and crawled back, but he was too late: someone else had had the same idea — cut the corpse’s throat to get at the teeth.

  15. Boorman is indeed quite jolly in person, and was a great pal of Isherwood and Bachardy. Charlotte Rampling is Don’t favourite actress. She has indeed had a charmed career starting with The Knack (the sight of her puring a glass of water down her wet suit prior to water-skiing remains indelible) and moving on to such outre delights as Georgry Girl, The Damned, The Night Porter, Zardoz, Max Mon Amour and most recently Under the Sand and Swimming Pool. She’s done another for Ozon that I haven’t seen yet. He really gets her.

  16. Angel I guess is the newest one. Think I have a copy of that around here somewhere…

  17. Heavens, I spelt “there” wrong. sorry, I’m ill. I love the story of Ron Perlman, Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits forming The Sons of Lee Marvin.

  18. Yeah, what wouldn’t we give for entry to THAT secret society!

    Get well soon!

  19. david wingrove Says:

    Even with her dreadful OAP make-up, La Charlotte still looks better at the end of ZARDOZ than she does in BASIC INSTINCT II – where the poor lady looks frail and haggard in the extreme. Had she just finished reading the script?

    She doesn’t have a great deal to do in ANGEL, but looks consummately lovely while doing it. She’s also the best thing (along with Gillian Anderson) in an atrocious new Brit flick called BOOGIE WOOGIE.

  20. I see she has about twenty new movies coming out (Solondz, Medem), and has recently played a Babylonian high priestess (typecasting!) for Matthieu Kassovitz. She’s currently playing in two different movies shooting right now, having mastered the art of bilocation.

  21. As I recall one critic cited her saying “Lacanian” in Basic Instinct II as that movie’s high point.

  22. The endings of Cops and College are perhaps more understandable when you consider the context in which the films were made. Cops was released in March 1922 and coincided with the start of Roscoe Arbuckle’s THIRD trial for the murder of Virginia Rappe, a charge on which he was finally acquitted. Buster was Roscoe’s greatest friend, one of the few to stand by him, and would have been with Roscoe on the weekend the death occurred had he not chosen to go fishing instead. So he had very good reason to take a bleak view of cops and the judicial system.

    College was released in September 1927 by which time his marriage to Natalie Talmadge was well and truly over. She had relegated him to the spare room after the birth of their second child mainly, it is said, at the urging of her mother, Peg, and her two sisters, Norma and Constance. Buster’s growing cynicism with the institution is apparent in several of his films, most overtly in My Wife’s Relations.

    Anita Loos writes “Peg had schooled Nate to look down on her husband as a mere substitute for a career, but in my opinion the chance to wake up in the morning and look across a pillow into that fabulous face should have been fulfillment enough for any girl.”

    I’m not sure I’d go along with that theory, but I would have been happy to test it.

  23. Apologies if someone already mentionef it, but Bunuel cribbed the end of COLLEGE for UN CHIEN ANDALOU. Beat for beat, nearly frame for frame, it’s the same ending.

  24. John Boorman holds a special place in my heart and I can’t bear to see him maligned. We share a birthplace in the Thames Valley, and there is a section of his autobiography (Adventures of a Suburban Boy) which he calls ‘Breathing the River’ and which describes exactly the feelings it evokes in those like me who grew up on its banks. And, of course, he made Hope and Glory, a fine film, which put those very feelings on the screen.

    Has anyone seen Leo the Last recently?? I saw it in 1970 and have only the vaguest memories of it, and now it seems to be a lost film. Justifiably so?

  25. Not at all. It’s one of his very very best.

  26. I have an appalling copy of it. It was made by United Artists back when their philosophy was to pick a filmmaker they respected, agree a subject, hand over the money and say “See you at the premier.” It’s part of the big catalogue of films that used to air on the late-lamented Carlton Cinema.

    It’s definitely worth a look, but I’d need to watch it again to see what I really think of it.

    Jaime, I think you’re right. The surrealists were big on American comedy, and Bunuel seems to have particularly liked Keaton. He does add the lovely Dalinean image of the half-buried figures, propped like marionettes. And a nice intertitle.

    Cops was certainly influenced by the Arbuckle scandal, which is why its so terrifying as well as funny — all those ant-like enemies.

  27. I read through all of the comments hoping someone would mention HOPE AND GLORY as one for the “plus column” in defense of Boorman. Thanks jadean! It’s a film I’m very fond of.

    Not sure what you think of the film in Britain, where it’s your history, but seeing it as a 20-year-old American it gave me a more vivid idea of what it’s like to have the sh-t bombed out of your town, something that didn’t happen here. Many films deal with that era. but the lives of ordinary people in houses on the ground are usually presented abstractly — they are just fodder for montages. I love all of Boorman’s details and found the movie very engrossing.

    Also, I like the film’s exploration of the way _everything_ is normal when you are a child. It’s there as a strong theme but nobody comes out and speaks it.

  28. I’ve often wondered if the fact that America has largely escaped bombing in the last hundred years explains the US’s fondness for blowing up other countries. Then I remind myself that the UK is usually right in there too, supplying planes and explosives.

    H&G is a good one. Boorman belongs to the school of English eccentric — comparing him to Blake or Carroll might be overdoing it, but it’s good to have a few mad artists. He’s a national treasure along with Ken Russell (who certainly DOES have a sense of the ridiculous).

    One of the sketches Boorman may have inspired:

  29. I’m sorry if anybody feels I have been maligning Boorman – Point Blank is miraculous, even if I have reservations about the rest of his oeuvre, including the extraordinarily unpleasant and racist treatment of poor white people in Deliverance, which – if it was aimed towards any other ethnic group – would be seen for what it is.

    (Incidentally, he has aimed a very similar, patronising eye at the Irish people during his many years of residence here, and this is the peculiar mix of arms-length affection and total lack of understanding lampooned by the Ted and Ralph sketches.)

    I still haven’t watched Hell in the Pacific, as I feel I need to save some pleasures – a whole two hours of Marvin and Mifune! – up for the bleak days of mid-winter and old age.

  30. I think it’s essentially a mistake to save films up — we could all be dead tomorrow! But of course it’s necessary as there are slightly too many to watch all at once.

    You can see the influence of Deliverance on that atrocity Vinyan, where indeed the racism is far more undeniable. There’s also the unpleasant double standard whereby rape in Deliverance (male-on-male) is horrific, whereas in Zardoz (male-on-female) it’s a wet-dream.

    One saving grace is the sense that the characters in Deliverance invite punishment by their insensitive tourism — but to make that happen the film has to depict the poor people as subhuman monsters.

  31. ———————-
    I’ve often wondered if the fact that America has largely escaped bombing in the last hundred years explains the US’s fondness for blowing up other countries. Then I remind myself that the UK is usually right in there too, supplying planes and explosives.
    ————————–
    Very true.

    Great Ted and Ralph clip, David.

  32. Great Woody Allen joke:
    “I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

  33. No wait, surely America is just like Deliverance. That film’s no more “racist” than the Blair Witch Project., there are crazy people in the woods. In fact only two characters in the film are actually malign, the rest are just creepy, and that’s fine as we’re seeing them through the tourists’ eyes, and inbred hillbillies are creepy, Boorman gives us photographic proof. People are scary when you can’t read them, that’s a perfectly valid observation. And it’s surely not the double-standard that’s troubling about the rape in Zardoz. And David E, fair point, but do you really want to start this?

  34. Yes.

    One of the biggest myths going is that the 9/11 attack was “unprovoked.”
    How quickly we “remember to “forget.”

    We are and our allies are bombing peasants in third world coutries even as I post.

  35. For more information about our activities read this.

    It’s not a recent book.

  36. david wingrove Says:

    Dear old Chomsky is always worth a read – and his documentary MANUFACTURING CONSENT (made around 15 years ago) is a total must-see. It puzzles me that he has worked so many years at MIT, one of the cornerstones of the US military-industrial complex!

    Or have I got that wrong?

    Charlotte Rampling as the ‘high point’ of BASIC INSTINCT II? Well, in a movie made up almost entirely of low points, I guess she proabably is.

  37. I wish we could have had Cronenberg’s proposed version, although I still have trouble visualizing what that would have been like.

    Chomsky’s MIT connection seems well established. I guess it’s a good place for him to get his message across, not that it seems to be working.

    I remember the short film Oscar winner, who’d made something about kids at the time of Pearl Harbor, making some remark about Pearl H being “the FIRST unprovoked attack on American soil.” I nearly choked on my hot chocolate.

  38. […] I hate sport. I am to sport what Richard Dawkins is to religion. And while I admire Keaton’s COLLEGE and Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, I don’t like the way the bookworm turns and beats the jocks at […]

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