Archive for November, 2012

The Wizard of Osric

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2012 by dcairns

A lovely Dublin bookshop had a large collection of second-hand film books, all dealing with British or Hollywood topics — I got The Westmores of Hollywood (from which much classic movie lore and gossip derives), The Celluloid Mistress or The Custard Pie of Dr Caligari, which I don’t yet know how to describe, and The Film HAMLET, which deals with Olivier’s movie in a pretty in-depth way for 1948, and for such a slender volume.

I was taken with the stuff pertaining to Peter Cushing’s Osric (the film features both Cushing and Christopher Lee, though Lee’s role is minute and they never meet onscreen) ~

“Osric, that sinister Beau Brummell of the Danish Court, fell pat into place. Casting our stage production of ‘Born Yesterday,’ in the autumn of 1946, Laurence and I had seen a clutch of young actors for the juvenile lead, among them a striking looking character, Peter Cushing, who stuck in our minds by a frank refusal even to attempt an American accent. Weeks later, watching another actor at the Q Theatre, I was struck by a performance of the Frenchman in ‘Where the Sun Shines,’ so true in style and accent that I looked for a French name on the programme. It was Mr. Cushing, and he speaks no French. Here evidently was an actor, and his test for Osric disposed of the last of our problems on the male side.”

Casting director Anthony Bushell there.

Cushing must have been thrilled, being a great Olivier fan — he admired Larry’s athletic approach, and you can see his emulation of it in the vigorous climaxes of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, and the swashbuckling approach he takes to playing Sherlock Holmes in HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Holmes is constantly exulted by his own intelligence, so that he spends the film on an adrenalin high.

Here’s costume and production designer Roger Furse’s sketch of Osric ~

My late friend Lawrie was an assistant on HAMLET, and described the ghost’s appearance in the opening scene — Olivier had wanted a pounding heart on the soundtrack, like Rouben Mamoulian’s in DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (the director recorded his own elevated heartbeat after charging up and down a flight of stairs), so a junior employee was sent racing around the sound stage to get his pulse pounding. A microphone was pressed to his abdomen — “Nothing but indigestion,” reported Lawrie. When you see the film, the role of the heartbeat is played by a big bass drum.

But the cool thing is the way they’ve used an optical printer to make the shot throb in and out of focus each time the infernal heart beats…


Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on November 29, 2012 by dcairns

A new Forgotten — my host and co-director Paul Duane mentioned this one, which is getting a screening in London soon, as representative of a forgotten strand of British cinema — my ears pricked up at once. That, and the names Basil Dearden and Googie Withers sold it. I think you’ll be intrigued.

Mystery of the Pencil Museum

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2012 by dcairns

“This film was produced by committee,” said SIGHTSEERS director Ben Wheatley with faultless deadpan, “It was heavily focus-grouped, and we decided that a film with a small dog, serial murder, and a lot of minor English tourist attractions would be a hit.”

The filmmaker was speaking, along with writers and co-stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (a ringer for the late Nicol Williamson) at a Dublin screening of the new movie from the maker of KILL LIST. I lucked into a free ticket to the show at the Light House, a spacious cinema next to the place used as Checkpoint Charlie in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.

Wheatley (right) and most of his surviving cast.

SIGHTSEERS is a semi-improvised black comedy — it begins with a caravan holiday and becomes a killing spree. Oram is the experienced murderer, killing to settle petty disputes, like John Waters’ SERIAL MOM, rather than to satisfy perverted desires like most real-life mass murderers. Lowe is the inexperienced, unworldly woman breaking away from her grasping mother for the first time, and learning to exult in the joys of homicide, which nicely compliment those of sex and knitting (the hand-knitted crotch-less undies from this film will surely go on to be the most valuable movie prop since Rosebud).

For some reason Wheatley departs from KILL LIST’s deadpan approach to violence, modeled on Youtube verité footage: at times, the mayhem here has a gloating, late Fulci feel, a sort of “Here is a shot of our costly special effect” quality, which took me out of the film. But at times the location filming is extremely beautiful, and it gave me a surprise respect for the unknown attractions of the British countryside. “You don’t see places like the pencil Museum in many films,” said one viewer. “It’s in SKYFALL, actually,” said Wheatley.

Much of the semi-improvised film’s charm comes from the Brummie accents — Birmingham is known as an unglamorous and uncinematic city. It has historically low cinema attendance, and I think the only film to ever premier there may have been Beeban Kidron’s VROOM. It died like a dog. Peter Sellers, having essayed an excellent Brummie accent in HEAVENS ABOVE!, using it to de-glamorize a rather Christ-like (for him) character, returned to the accent in CASINO ROYALE, because it gave Bond impersonator Evelyn Tremble a suitably mundane vibe. Not even a vibe, really, more of a hum.

I’d call SIGHTSEERS a kind of BADLANDS meets NUTS IN MAY. I don’t really like Mike Leigh’s theatrical vision of ordinariness, and I generally like ordinariness in films only when it comes into contrast with extraordinariness. This movie does that. Wheatley is on a quite a roll, and surely we’ll hear a lot more from the talented Lowe & Oram.