Archive for July, 2013

Light My Fire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-30-22h15m39s164

Watched IS PARIS BURNING? because I’d been meaning to and it was one of the film’s on Spike Lee’s recent, very good, list of films every film-maker should see. (Full list here.) Also recommending it was the fact that René Clement is aces, and the cast is beyond sumptuous (although some of the big names are only in it for a cough and a spit) and the screenplay is adapted by Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal (were those two actually in a room together?).

The best aspect of the movie, about the liberation of Paris and the Nazi scheme to blow the city to schmidtereens, is the accumulation of little anecdotes, vignettes with the bizarreness which marks them as true. Belmondo conquers a palace just by showing up with his wife and demanding the French police hand it over to him. Jean-Pierre Cassel conducts a machine-gun assault from an old lady’s apartment as she watches, enchanted, sipping tea, then orders his men to clear up the spent bullet casings from the floor as they leave. Anthony Perkins treats his invasion as a sight-seeing tour.

It’s an oddly upbeat war movie, but not in the offensively jingoistic John Wayne manner — it’s really a celebration of Paris, which blossoms into colour as the end credits roll. Stylistically, there are some awkward moments, and the marriage of stock footage and not-quite-verité action is sometimes a trifle jarring.

vlcsnap-2013-07-30-22h19m18s71

There’s an early moment which is a very striking example of muddled filmmaking. Two resistance members (Delon & Caron) meet in a cinema where a newsreel is screening. For some incomprehensible reason, the cinema screen is in a 14:9 aspect ratio which did not exist in the 1940s (IPB? is itself widescreen), with the footage anamorphically stretched to fit, resulting in stretch tanks and tubby Wehrmacht. I can only assume somebody in the production felt a 4:3 screen would look old hat, and that no audience could possibly care about such a detail. Strange when so much work has gone into every other detail.

The cinema seems very bright — and this is factually correct, for when the Actualité Mondiale newsreels (co-produced by Pathé and Gaumont and serving up Pétainiste propaganda: several are quoted in our film NATAN) were screened, audience members heckled. To prevent this, the lights were kept on. Somebody knew this, and thought it worth including in the film, even though there was no opportunity to explain it to audience members who might not know — and yet they compromised on the aspect ratio to make it look more modern.

There must be a lesson in this, and the one I choose to take is: far better to simply be honest.

vlcsnap-2013-07-30-22h18m50s46

Things I read off the screen in Suddenly, Last Summer

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h17m38s176

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h24m16s60

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h23m07s134

What can you see in the shadows?

There are spoilers in this…

Though Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s use of horror movie tropes to depict homosexuality in his adaptation (with Gore Vidal) of Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER has drawn comment, I suspect in time we may come to be more alarmed by the film’s depiction of Mexican street boys as cannibals, and lunatic asylum inmates as zombies.

Of course, there is a certain amount of weaseling around the cannibalism thing — “It looked as if” Sebastian had been eaten alive, we are told. But the sequence as staged by Mankiewicz evokes Romero horror movies which had not yet been made, plus THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and the climax of ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (two other movies with very queer gentlemen who play God), and it’s supposed to prove that Liz Taylor is NOT insane, so even if we don’t take it 100% literally, we have to take it as to some extent true.

(John Gielgud dubbed the play, “Please Don’t Eat the Pansies.”)

Williams’ evocation of the monstrous-feminine, ably embodied by Katherine Hepburn in Mrs Bates embalmed mode, might also raise eyebrows. Perhaps we need to just admit that the Gothic imagination is not inclined to be politically correct.

Poor Monty Clift is very good in a role (sympathetic lobotomist!) that basically involves looking quietly freaked at how goddamn WEIRD everybody is in this picture — a vital role to make the audience acclimatize.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h37m59s98

LOOK: Even when Hepburn casually picks up a magazine in the hospital sun room, it features swimsuit sexiness on the back cover and a devouring tropical beast on the front.

Occurred to me that Hepburn’s first scene, with the primeval garden (containing its own Audrey II flesheater in miniature greenhouse) is like the briefing of Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP, and the movie is a Freudian detective story like SPELLBOUND or MARNIE, but even more investigative and Marlowesque than those. And did Bunuel clock Hepburn’s buzzing box and steal it for BELLE DE JOUR, perhaps thinking that, although the specially-imported Venus flytrap food was a good gag, it was a pity to introduce a mysterious buzzing box and ever explain what was up with that?

Jack Hildyard’s photography is incredible, well served by the DVD.  His career seems to have gone to shit after MODESTY BLAISE, but before that he shot BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI — he also did uncredited work for Mankiewicz on CLEOPATRA and much as I love Leon Shamroy (The King of Technicolor), I have a suspicion that the nocturnal throne-room stuff in that movie which is FAR handsomer than anything else in it, may conceivably be Hidlyard’s contribution. I’d love to know.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h25m25s235

What a weird film. Though Clift and Taylor have mucho chemistry in A PLACE IN THE SUN, here their love story is pretty flimsy, and the movie brushes aside any qualms about Clift falling for a patient (whom he also hypnotizes). The grotesque circus hangs together remarkably well, with all its brazenly unsubtle symbolism and incantatory, Salome-esque monologues, but the romance may be a beat too many. Whatever — just getting a freakshow like this made at MGM deserves some kind of chutzpah award.

Embarrassing note: I’d never seen it.

Fiona: “You have so seen it. I’ve seen it!”

Me: “But we have not seen all the same films, because we are two people.”

Though this at times seems decreasingly true.

vlcsnap-2013-07-21-00h30m58s214

Pretty Polygraph

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2013 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2013-07-28-12h20m24s111

Wheeler and Woolsey electrocute Betty Grable in THE NITWITS. Actually, the sparks are from a home-made invention which forces the victim to tell the truth.

An interesting thing about the real life lie detector — it incorporates something called the systolic blood pressure test, invented by William Moulton Marston. This blood pressure measurement helps determine whether or not the testee is telling pork pies. Marston, in addition to being a psychologist and intrepid troilist, was also the creator of Wonder Woman, who has a lie detector of her own, her lassoo which forces snagged perpetrators to confess their sins. It’s not often that parallel careers and interests (Marston’s kinky side emerges vividly in his comic book writing) influence each other so clearly.

But never mind that. THE NITWITS is an RKO Wheeler & Woolsey comedy from 1935, directed by George Stevens. Although W&W betray more of a Marx Bros influence (while looking forward to Abbot & Costello), Stevens’ handling of the mock-thriller storyline often recalls his experience as a cinematographer on Laurel & Hardy shorts. But then he pulls out a lot of suave proto- noir effects for the last act.

vlcsnap-2013-07-28-12h22m29s119

Whodunnit? Fred Keating is such an interesting performer one figures it must be him, but the movie also features Erik Rhodes, so it keeps you guessing.

vlcsnap-2013-07-28-12h23m01s174

The wisecracks are pretty basic stuff (including one Groucho swipe) but the visual comedy is often excellent, with the boys visiting Grable at the prison wearing stilts so they can speak to her at a high window (they end up serenading a hoosegow full of felons, who join in as chorus) and a hectic climax with Willie Best and his stereotyped friends fleeing a fake spook, and some fairly inventive slapstick. Searching the list of credited and uncredited writers, I find the name of Al Boasberg, “the funniest guy in Hollywood,” who wrote gags for Keaton on THE GENERAL — I think he’s likely the fellow responsible for the best business in this one.

vlcsnap-2013-07-28-12h21m21s206

vlcsnap-2013-07-28-12h21m27s226

This was Stevens’ last silly comedy vehicle — evidently somebody noticed it was better than it needed to be.