Archive for December, 2010

A Love Bewitched

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

I’m glad this is up on YouTube, and in such pristine form. Hope whoever posted it is the rights holder, I stuck a bit on YouTube and got my account closed for my troubles.

And when are we going to get to see this (deeply flawed, intermittently brilliant) Powell movie? The film that really killed Powell’s career (you don’t wind up making a slasher movie for Anglo-Amalgamated if your career hasn’t been killed)…

I recently saw THE QUEEN’S GUARDS, Powell’s follow-up to PEEPING TOM — he had Hollywood studio backing for it, as the damage of PEEPING TOM hadn’t happened yet. But THE QUEEN’S GUARDS, as Powell ruefully admits in his autobio, is a bad film. As such, it may have done more to hurt him than PT’s critical reception — at least many of the reviewers admitted TOM was made with Powell’s usual skill (this seemed to make things worse). That can’t be said for GUARDS.

At any rate, the idea that PEEPING TOM was the sole cause of Powell’s fall should be laid to rest.

HONEYMOON is startling because the bad bits are so bad and the good bits — see above — so good. It certainly gives the impression that Powell without Pressburger needed a strong collaborator (like Leo Marks) to shape his ideas. The story meanders, never acquires depth, and ultimately fails to resolve itself at all. Even some of the dance sequences are bad: Powell film’s Antonio’s first impromptu dance in medium shot, cutting off his feet, a shocking thing to do in any dance, but especially a Spanish one. Some of the problems no doubt stemmed from a last-minute alteration: Powell felt he hadn’t got enough of Spain into the movie, so he made a quick whistle-stop tour of the locations in his car, filming out of the window. This footage was more or less dumped into the movie, with a treacly song by Wally Stott (musical arranger for The Goon Show, later transexual) laid over it — the result is that the film seems like it’s never going to get started, and when it eventually does, it’s regularly interrupted by tedious travelogue. If Powell had lived with the edit for just a few more days, I have no doubt he’d have hacked some of this filler out.

Still, as you can see from the amazing action above, while it’s not quite THE RED SHOES ballet, the El Amor Bruja number is stunning, and makes the idea of a restoration exciting indeed.

Things Roddy said during “Dracula AD 1972”

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2010 by dcairns

“Here he comes… the most exciting, scariest vampire you’ve ever seen!”

Fiona’s brother Roddy likes horror movies — I have to qualify that by saying he likes specific ones, like Universal FRANKENSTEIN movies or Hammer DRACULA ones. Christopher Lee is without question his favourite actor. So during Roddy’s Christmas visit there was no question what we were watching. Fiona screened the original Hammer/Lee DRAC while I was wrapped the parcels, and on Boxing Day I ran AD 1972, the penultimate film in Hammer’s loose series (not counting the later LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, which maybe I should, even though it’s pretty poor, even by the dubious standards of vampire kung fu crossover flicks).

I like the two modern-day DRACS, although I shouldn’t. The period sequels got dull pretty fast, and even a transfusion of fresh ideas in TASTE THE BLOOD OF D didn’t entirely dispel the air of deja vu. Not that this bothers Roddy, who likes to repeat pleasurable experiences: like a lot of people with learning difficulties, and a lot of children too (Roddy just turned 50) he’s comforted by repetition and predictability.

I’ve never asked him if he prefers historical Hammers to funky modern ones, but I doubt it makes too much difference. I certainly know Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are big parts of the pleasure: although the title BRIDES OF DRACULA always raises his interest, once he discovers Lee isn’t in it, he goes off the idea; a shame, as it may be Terence Fisher’s best film in the “series”.

Hyde Park — a Victorian Hansom approaches. “I think this is the one where they’re fighting — him and Dracula!” declares Roddy as  Cushing and Lee appear, wrestling on the roof.

Lee is dispatched with a spoke through the heart — curiously, Roddy, a traditionalist in matters of vampire slaying, doesn’t object to this. Cushing dies, we get an attractively-shot funeral, and unknown hands rescue a sample of Dracula’s ashes, along with his ring. I’m not sure the identity of this Draculite is ever dealt with, but it’s a nice mystery — he’s obviously an ancestor of the disciple we meet later, since he’s played by the same actor, but it’s not clear why he leaves it so long before attempting a resurrection.

Alan Hume’s Dick Bush’s cinematography makes attractive use of both long lens and wide angle lens effects.

Pan up from grave, past now-ruined church, to catch jet plane flying overhead, a shot which makes me think of the falcon turning into a fighter plane in Powell & Pressburger’s A CANTERBURY TALE. Funky music, shots of cranes forming cruciform shapes against the skyline, a steak house, a red London bus, and on to the wild party.

Cushing appears again, this time as his own grandson, and Stephanie Beacham is his buxom granddaughter, Jessica (inexplicably replaced by the more streamlined Joanna Lumley in the sequel the following year). Jessica is hanging with a wild crowd, including Johnny Alucard (prettyboy Christopher Neame).

“They’re dancing too fast!” complains Roddy during the party-crashing scene. People with Williams syndrome are usually quite musical, and Roddy is a good drummer. With his sense of rhythm, he spots that the partygoers are dancing to the wrong music.

“Would you smile at a policeman?”

“Uh, there he is. Why’s he got a bow tie on?”

“Carpathia? Where’s that?” Roddy must ask this question every time he watches the film. One never knows if he forgets the answer or if he just likes asking the question. People with Williams’ syndrome are notoriously chatty, and Roddy asks questions not just to obtain answers, not even primarily, but rather to keep the conversation going.

Alucard and his gang (including babes Caroline Munro and Marsha Hunt) attempt a black mass, accompanied by the music of The White Noise (featuring David Vorhaus, son of film director Bernard, and Delia Derbyshire, electronic genius behind the Dr Who theme) and raise Christopher Lee, who eschews dialogue as much as possible (Lee hated the scripts’ departures from Stoker, and particularly disliked the modern ambience).

Neame should have been a bigger star, it seems to me. He’s perfectly attuned to the movie’s camp sensibilities, and he looks great. If you’re going to have a character called Johnny Alucard, and I’m not for a minute suggesting you should, this is what he should look like.

“Here comes the smoke — or is it steam?”

This may be the movie where the makeup team pranked Lee by fitting him with Union Jack contact lenses…

Cushing prepares to strike back as Jessica’s pals go missing, and a montage shows him collecting holy water and melting a crucifix to make a silver bullet. This scene is why I’m never watching this movie with Roddy again, because he ALWAYS objects to the idea of silver bullets as a vampire-killing measure. “That’s for werewolves!” And he won’t be told otherwise, even if I quote the entry from my copy of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts (Carey Miller, Piccolo, 1974, my childhood source on all things monstrous) ~

1) A wooden stake made from aspen or hawthorn wood must be driven into the vampire’s heart or navel;

2) Small stones or rains of incense must be placed in the coffin so that the vampire has something to nibble if he awoke, to delay him leaving the coffin;

3) Garlic must be stuffed in his mouth;

4) Millet seed must be scattered over the vampire’s body for he could not leave the tomb until every grain had been counted;

5) The vampire’s body must be buried face downwards;

6) Wild, thorny roses must be strung outside the coffin in order to hinder the vampire’s progress from the grave.

There are other legendary ways of killing a vampire, like shooting him with a silver bullet or burning his coffin so he cannot return to it.

By the way, that millet seed thing only works if the vampire is the Count from Sesame Street.

Cushing tracks Alucard to his lair pad, and after an exciting confrontation where Johnny calls Van “man” about fifteen times, the creature of the night perishes under the clear running water of his shower. He also offends Roddy by calling Cushing “bastard!”

“Language, Dracula!” That’s not Dracula, I remind him. “Language, vampire!”

Alucard, being a recent vamp, doesn’t disintegrate when slain, he just turns a bit soapy.

Ouch! Stephanie has really hot tits!

Cushing corners Lee in his desanctified church and there’s a stirring battle. I like it when Hammer came up with complicated deaths for Lee (while I hate it when he gets struck by lightning), and this is a doozy, with holy water slung like acid, and a plunge from the steeple into a booby-trapped grave. Cushing finishes him off by driving him onto the spike with a jab from his shovel.

“That’s done the trick!”

Rest in Final Peace, reads the end title, a proposition immediately turned into a lie by next year’s sequel.

A shame Hammer didn’t make a true-life adaptation of the case of the Highgate Vampire, which would have given them an AMITYVILLE HORROR kind of documentary vibe. But I must admit I enjoy this tosh, and only wish director Alan Gibson could have been put in charge of the HARRY POTTER series, which might be enlivened by a jazz funk soundtrack and great yawning chasms of female cleavage.

Albert Whitlock’s Edinburgh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2010 by dcairns

Looking down on an artificial Greyfriars Kirk, with an artificial Castle behind it.

To entertain Fiona’s brother, Roddy, we screened Disney’s GREYFRIARS BOBBY: THE TRUE STORY OF A DOG, and wound up being hugely entertained ourselves. A surprisingly sophisticated, authentic and somewhat dark tale, it takes liberties with the historical record but serves up a rather neat tale. Don Chaffey directed, and the cast included Lawrence Naismith, one of Chaffey’s original Argonauts, as well as Donald Crisp, the bloke who bludgeoned Lillian Gish to death in BROKEN BLOSSOMS, and the face at the window that terrified Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR. Both gents were superb.

The titular dog (given the Val Lewton treatment here) runs away from Gordon Jackson’s farm to follow his master, an aging crofter (Alex MacKenzie, THE MAGGIE, wonderfully moving) to Edinburgh. A city of torrential rain and loud drunks, then as now. The whole first act is watching this simple old man die, refusing a doctor. Impressively dour stuff for a family show. When MacKenzie’s buried, the dog refuses to leave his grave at night, and gradually the two old men who have tried to make Bobby behave like a normal domestic animal give in and help him to achieve his own lifestyle choice. For the dog is just as stubborn and difficult (in Scots we say “thrawn”) as his master was.

Kids appear, of course, played by the future editor of Paris Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck, and the talented Vincent Winter, who won a special Oscar for his role in THE KIDNAPPERS. Special Oscars were for children, cripples, and black people, you see. Winter’s co-star and co-winner, Jon Whiteley, went on to star in Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET and Roy Ward Baker’s THE SPANISH GARDNER. THE KIDNAPPERS is a fantastically charming affair, with one of the worst soundtracks I’ve ever heard, an insistent barrage of inappropriate noise (hang your head, Bruce Montgomery), whereas GB:TTSOAD has a lovely score by Francis Chagrin, possibly his career high point.

The artificial Grassmarket viewed from the artificial Cowgate.

And I love imaginary landscapes, so I was delighted to see my home city turned into a series of them, courtesy of Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings. Very much an authentic portrayal of the 19th-century capital: it was even disappointing when they used an occasional location shot. The matte paintings are augmented by Michael Stringer’s stylised sets, which use forced perspective and big backdrops and are thoroughly charming. He even builds a convincing replica of Greyfriars Kirkyard, the original of which can be seen here. I immediately looked him up to see what else he’d done, and found A SHOT IN THE DARK. I have fond memories of Herbert Lom’s office in that one, with a view out the window of a miniature Paris. This is one of the benefits of being a Parisian police chief: they give you a miniature city, so you can step out the window and rampage like Kong, or just tower over it all like Fantomas. It’s a wonder Lom’s so frustrated when his job comes with a perk like that.

This angle delights me because, even though there’s no reason for it to be a painting, it is.

There was a recent version of the tale, not an official remake but another riff off the historical account, and my costume designer friend from CRY FOR BOBO, Ali Mitchell, worked on it. When she saw John Landis’s BURKE AND HARE recently she was able to spot much of the same costumery hired for BOBBY, and a few things she’d had made herself. I like spotting props and stuff reappearing in different films, but I’m not expert enough to identify costumes, normally — except all the FORBIDDEN PLANET gear that gets reused in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and a dozen other B-flicks.

Buy the original for your kids (better quality than my frame-grabs) ~

UK: Greyfriars Bobby [DVD] [1960]

USA: Greyfriars Bobby