Archive for September, 2011

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Eighteenth

Posted in FILM with tags on September 26, 2011 by dcairns

We’re there, or nearly — the penultimate episode of my mysteriously unproduced screen masterpiece is upon us at last. In our previous installment, Sheena escaped the clutches of If, but he fulfilled his diabolical goal of obtaining his own police file — but why? Meanwhile, Inspector Turner narrowly escaped an exploding building with a plank nailed to his scrotum, and Howie, the human exhibit at Edinburgh Zoo, achieved little.

Now read on…


Smoky light filters through the open mouth of the bank. If is gurgling on a hookah and leafing through his file. The ballerinas snog each other, bored.


Ah, the Great Duck Heist of 1898! I got away with fifty ponds. Such happy mammaries. Committing arson while dressed as a naan bread – they laughed when I said I’d do it, but I proved them wrong. Committing treason, live on stage, while personating an admiral of the royal fleet and cuckolding an ironmonger. The best notices I’ve ever had. Bliss!

He slams the file shut and sticks it in his Gladstone bag.


My record of infamy will go last into the furnace so I can join the nothinged world as it melts like cheese atop a hot pencil. All colours running together, a riot of emotions and flesh, feathers and bacteria, science and soup.

He punches a Ballerina in the stomach.


Quickly, Gaston! My cheddar violin! My toothpaste sword! My sandals of truth and my nitrogen smock! To battle!


Police Headquarters. Howie, Sheena and Turner sit gloomily together, stumped. A big map is full of pins marking If’s outrages.

Turner is covered in sticking plasters and bandages.


How are the –


I’m fine.


You know, where the nails –



He crosses his legs with an air of finality, winces, and uncrosses them.


So we have no clues?


Everything’s a clue. Or nothing is. Either way, they don’t mean anything.


It’s like wrestling alligators and God at the same time.

Howie turns on the news.


The Lord Provost has been dragged naked through Drylaw by hunchbacks, a milliner’s shop has turned to fat, and everybody in Musselburgh has grown a leg. And a disturbing new cult is welcoming these escalating incidents of freakishness. This report, now:



Some of the MARCHERS wear animal masks, tutus or top hats. They chant:


What do we want? NOTHING! When do we want it? FOREVER!


They call themselves the Iffies and their demands are simple: an end to physical matter and the establishment of a big ice rink. I spoke to some of these queer ducks.

A Hippy Chick is interviewed:


It’s not New Age. It’s not Old Age. It’sNOWAGE.

An Old Duffer:


If IS, daddy-O! He’s a happening cat! He’s hep to the beat and he’s wild in the street.

A Rotund Dutchman:


Ve vill tear down your vallsh and make love in the ruinsh while the lasht men fight to the death for scrapsh of oxygen, ishn’t it?


Sheena flicks off the set.


Something’ll turn up. We can beat this. He’s a criminal and we’re the law.

Turner and Howie look at her curiously.


…in a way.

A bell rings –


Sheena, Howie, Turner and Thrower pile into the dormitory.

Duffle is awake again. Wide awake this time. He’s out of bed, in nightgown and cap, arming himself to the teeth.


Duffle! Should you be up?


Twenty years asleep but it’s all been worth it – God willing, If is mine! I don’t know who you all are, but follow me if you value your existence!


If swirls about using a Ballerina as cello, a rose clenched between his teeth. His bow saws her midriff, produces eloquent gypsy threnodies.

He passes the rose, with a kiss, to a second Ballerina.


Seconds out, round three. In which virtue is punished, vice rewarded, death triumphs, and the apocalypse is delivered by induced labour. Tights, comrades, achtung – let bottle commence!

If gestures with his bow to a single lighted window in the university building.

A distant clock strikes bong.


Two Ballerinas load a blue bottle into a mortar and FIRE!


The bottle explodes as a firework in the night sky with an inappropriate WOOF!


The Prof frowns at another baffling printout from his computer: a hand made of millions of 0s.

He is seized by sticky hands.


Turner’s knackered police car roars through the chillEdinburghnight, directed by Duffle.


I dreamed it all – I hope to God it doesn’t come true!


POLICEMEN run pell-mell through the streets. They near a tunnel, and stop, hesitating. Before them, a twenty-foot chicken emerges hesitantly from the tunnel.

A lone CONSTABLE cycles along. He skids to a standstill and dismounts, horrified. Large fish are swimming in the air around him. He blows his whistle, but it makes the sound of a foghorn.

A Black Maria van roars through the streets. Viewed from the driver’s seat, the road seems to get nearer, until we are skimming along an inch above the white lines on the road surface. The van has become tiny. A TODDLER picks it up and rattles it. High-pitched screaming from within. The child sticks one end of the van in his mouth. Furious honking.


Strange tights in the sky! Wasps the size of bagpipes – bagpipes the size of women! Plates of meat that come to life and kill their owners!

Victorian illustrations flash up depicting new outrages.


Cairo: pyramids open to emit giant glass noses. Chandelier tycoon retracts like telescope.

We see this in engraving form – Cheops unfolds, a Dwarf startled amid glassware.


Washington: James Joyce reborn as swordfish prophesying war. Assassin feasts on own hair.

And this – a moustached fish in a hospital bed, radiant light beaming upon it. A gunman consumes his pigtails.


Oslo: lost Pyrenee found under bushel. Songstress gutted by windmill.

Stray mountain. Windmill with axe-blades.


Beijing: Great Vole of China mates with local blimp. Musketeers electrified. Is the world coming to an end – or what?

A rodent mounting an airship, lightning strikes swashbucklers – then the image combusts.


Duffle and the others pull up outside. Strange lights within.

Another firework WOOFS above.

Duffle hurries up to the bottle bank and fires two shots into its mouth. Squeals from within.


Steady on!


No time!


He’s in the university?


The professor! Quick – science is what separates us from the animals!


Not me!

But they run into the building.



The Sunday Intertitle: Blackfeet, red face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2011 by dcairns

Heap big thanks to Ihsan Amanatullah and the National Film Preservation Foundation for Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938, a typically smashing box-set trove of films, fragments and ephemera. These collections are among my very favourite things.

One item of particular interest is Gregory La Cava’s third feature as director, and his first for Paramount. WOMANHANDLED is a romantic comedy from 1925 that pokes good-natured fun at the myth of the west, in much the same way as Doug Fairbanks did in WILD AND WOOLLY (reviewed here). The film is incomplete, but Treasures gathers enough scenes to form a reasonably coherent narrative.

In both films, a western community transforms itself into a fantasy vision of the past to fool a romantic visitor: in this case, it’s heroine Esther Ralston who has the hots for cowboys, and her beau, Richard Dix who sets out to live up to her fantasy.

Only the jaunty front wheels defy the frame’s robust squareness.

The whole film’s very pretty, with some flat-on establishing shots that are actually breathtaking in their graphic simplicity. It’s not especially hilarious: as other commenters have noted, neither of the stars is a particularly gifted comedian. Ralston is simply decorous, whereas Dix does try to get into the spirit of things, hamming it up a little at times. He’s a very sweet hero, though, smiling earnestly at Ralston even as her horrendous little cousin (and ancestor of the pint-sized monsters who would plague W.C. Fields, sometimes in La Cava films) sets about his achilles tendon with a tomahawk. You can’t associate him easily with the captain of THE GHOST SHIP, coldly threatening to shoot the hero “in the abdomen.”

Funniest moments are those that puncture the air of charming whimsy with some bracing nastiness, as above. When Dix orders some horses, the nags that turn up are virtual walking skeletons. Casually, without even seeming to think, Dix hangs his straw boater from the protruding pelvis of one shriveled mare.

Worse (and better) yet, Dix induces the “colored help” to don redface and impersonate Indians.

When Ralston naively asks what tribe this family is from, Dix improvises —

The friend I tried this line on went into a sort of strange loop of conflicted response — “That’s funny — but terrible — but funny — but terrible…” Join him in his world of pained amusement! As IMDb reviewer and legend F. Gwynplaine MacIntryre puts it, “At this point “Womanhandled” enters the delirious realm of double-decker racial stereotypes.”

This disc comes with copious notes and commentary tracks —  apparently, 1925 was the Year of the Western, with a third of all American movies going west. Esther Ralston’s career, it’s noted, is hard to assess since so many of her films are lost, including THE AMERICAN VENUS, whose trailer features in an earlier Treasures, and Sternberg’s THE CASE OF LENA SMITH. I know her mainly from a late-life interview in the documentary THE SILENT FEMINISTS: AMERICA’S FIRST WOMEN DIRECTORS, where she’s asked about Dorothy Arzner and goes into a protracted, unstoppable and very funny rant about how Arzner kept trying to get her to do sexy scenes until she complained to the studio boss. I get the impression this wasn’t the kind of insight the earnest documentarists behind the camera were after, but they cheefrully included it anyway, for which we can be grateful.

Buy: Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 24, 2011 by dcairns

I had a little free time at work today so I invented a new art form. I call it “branimation.” It’s like animation, but it uses Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “So is this kind of like motion capture?” you wonder. Yes — it’s EXACTLY like motion capture, only with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. “You mean like BEOWULF, which had a motion-captured Angelina Jolie with gold CGI body paint and high-heeled feet” you wonder. “Yes — it’s EXACTLY like BEOWULF, which had a motion-captured Angelina Jolie with gold CGI body paint and high-heeled feet, only this would also have a motion-captured Brad Pitt with green CGI body paint and high-heeled feet. And Brad and Angelina (or “Brangelina” as I’ve decided to call them, wittily) would play every role in every film made in the innovative new “branimation” format.

The first branimated picture will be an adaptation of the popular British television programme “The Test Card” (pictured). Brad will play the clown (he’s so funny!), and Angelina will play the girl (she’s so pretty!). With body paint and high-heeled feet. If this is successful, which it is sure to be because millions of people tuned in to watch the Test Card in the 70s, we will follow it up with a new entry in the CARRY ON series, CARRY ON BRANIMATING, with Brad Pitt in the Kenneth Williams role and Angelina Jolie in the Barbara Windsor role. With CGI body paint and high-heeled feet, naturally. Because we don’t want to mess with a successful brand, or “brange” as I’ve decided to call it, wittily.

Of course, I realize there’s a potential flaw in my plan (or “plange”). It is dependant on Brangelina (or “Brad & Angelina” as I’ve decided to call them, wittily) agreeing to be in these films. But in fact, even if Brad & Angelina for some unaccountable reason refuse to appear in my film THE TEST CARD 3D and my film CARRY ON BRANIMATING 3D, I can still make the films, casting unknowns as Brad & Angelina (or “Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie” as I’ve decided to call them, wittily). We can put the CGI body paint and high-heeled feet in later.

Of course again, casting unknowns isn’t as easy as it sounds. The difficulty is that usually when you’ve cast somebody, they are no longer unknown. The casting process frequently involves getting to know the actor, to some extent. “The system” has worked out many ways to prevent this from happening (casting agents, video auditions, etc), but with limited success. I’m told that Nicholas Winding Refn auditions actors by sitting on the floor wearing tight leather shorts and splaying his legs in an unnecessarily explicit fashion, so that they will not want to get to know him, but even this does not always work, as can be seen by the fact that some actors agree to be in his films.

To really cast unknown actors, one would have to audition them like the way in LAST TANGO IN PARIS Marlon Brando copulates with Maria Schneider (or “Maria”, as I have decided to call them, wittily) — in a vacant apartment with furniture piled in the corner under a dust sheet, without exchanging names or achieving simultaneous orgasm. I’m not saying that’s what I will do if B&M refuse to be in my films. I’m just saying that’s what I might be forced to do if B&M refuse to be in my films.

It’ll be on their own heads.