Archive for November, 2010

Meet Lawrie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 30, 2010 by dcairns

This is a little documentary a couple of my students, Susan Lamb and Stephen Tebbutt, made about my friend Lawrie Knight, some years ago. It’s only  a second year project, so it’s no masterpiece, but it’s the only film I have of him, and he tells some of his favourite Michael Powell stories. Lawrie worked as an AD, stand-in, editor, and various other jobs on A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES, as well as END OF THE RIVER. Other productions included KING SOLOMON’S MINES, BLANCHE FURY, CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE. He had stories from all of them, not all of which I have yet shared here…

I might need to add some notes later to clarify a few of his stories — he’d told them so often he sometimes left out vital details. When he set up in Scotland he quickly became famous as somebody who’d always mention his P&P experience within seconds of meeting you. And this, later on, is how we met him. Fiona was working in a furniture store and Lawrie trundled in by electric wheelchair to buy a couch, and announced that he was a film director. When she asked what he’d worked on, he said something like, “Oh, nothing you’d have heard of, probably. Classics!” But Fiona had heard of them, more than that, they were among both our all-time favourites, and within hours Lawrie was lending us his precious production stills from BLACK NARCISSUS (how I wish I’d scanned them!)

So began a friendship that lasted the final five years of Lawrie’s life, and enriched ours.

Snowed under at work?

Posted in Politics, weather with tags , on November 29, 2010 by dcairns

As snowflakes the size of killer bees batten and fatten upon the cowering metropolis, the world turns Harry Langdon white.

Snow keeps going on and off every minute. TV weather forecast will need an epilepsy warning.

So, a wee bit of snow and the Art College closes. I don’t quite get how the college is any less safe than anywhere else. The conspiracy theory connects this event to a planned union meeting that maybe management would rather didn’t happen, the non-conspiracy theory sees Scotland going the way of England, a nation of meteorological pantywaists who sink into the bluest of funks at the merest hint of fleecy precipitation.


Anyhow, the afternoon off gives me time to maybe watch PORTRAIT OF JENNIE or something.

Chimpanzee in Satin Trunks

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 29, 2010 by dcairns

I know, that title sounds like the best giallo ever.

But it’s not, it’s something even stranger. What we have here is a very peculiar meeting of minds and ideas. Our subject once again is the Doug Fairbanks THIEF OF BAGDAD. The royal palace has an unusual security system: when night falls, portcullises are closed, and hatches open in the floor, admitting savage wildcats, who prowl the great marble halls, deterring burglars.

But also on hand is a giant ape. In the shot which introduces this minor character (who plays no future role in the action and is a mere piece of walk-on exotica), there’s an initial thrill of WTF excitement — what exactly are we looking at here? A hulking, hairy figure in satin trunks, with an obscenely protruding posterior, is led on by two men.

The beast is chained in place, and the men walk off, pausing to look back.

The ape makes a funny face.

At some point during this sequence, we start to piece together the fragments of our shattered minds and figure out what we’re seeing. The chimpanzee is normal sized, and he’s led on by two dwarfs. When the dwarfs walk off, director Raoul Walsh cuts to two normal-sized players in scaled-up versions of the same costumes, to convince us that the humans are normal size and the ape is big. He cuts back to the ape, making a funny face, to reinforce the illusion.

I do think that only Mitchell Leisen (future director of genius, costume designer on this movie) would have thought up the masterstroke of the chimp’s shiny black trunks.