Archive for December, 2013

A Ghost Story for Christmas

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 31, 2013 by dcairns

The BBC has a long tradition of televised ghost stories at Christmas time, often involving M.R. James adaptations. Mark Gatiss has happily revived the idea this year with his version of The Tractate Middoth.

But here’s one from the ’70s, (heyday of this activity) made by commercial television, and it’s at least as good as the Lawrence Gordon Clarke movies the Beeb were turning out, while running about a third of the length. James is such an economical writer and most of his stories so simple that it’s no squeeze at all, and in fact the film feel’s leisurely. But the sting in the tale is powerful — it even gets away with depending on special effects, which work precisely because they’re so unexpected after the low-key exposition. It feels like the film itself has been invaded by another reality.

Interesting to see a maze played for terror before THE SHINING. Our director, Tony Scull, who, like his film, has existed without leaving any trace upon the IMDb, exploits the ragged and decaying hedgerows so he can film through them and get what we call Sid Furie shots, where the camera seems to be spying on the actor, implying some sinister presence. Sadly, this stops him from doing what Kubrick did, moving the camera through the maze giving us the subjective impression of being lost and enclosed. True, he wouldn’t have had access to a yet-to-be-invented steadicam, but hand-held could work just as well — wobble and lurch can add to our nervousness.

But he scores at the end, particularly when the credits start to rise before the VO has finished wrapping up the plot — this sounds like it could be messy, but it’s beautifully effective, capturing attitude of the uncaring universe as embodied by the TV schedule — we have to move on, and we can’t worry too much if some poor chap has just had his nerves shredded. And how are your nerves? Feel any urge to look behind you and check that no malefic presence has materialized through the floorboards while you were intent on your screen?

BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (Expanded six disc set) PAL ONLY

STOP PRESS: we’re told that this short is an extra on this DVD: Casting the Runes [1979] [DVD] Maybe if a few of you click through and buy it I’ll feel less guilty about inadvertently pirating something that was commercially available! The main feature is a TV adaptation of the same MR James story that became NIGHT OF THE DEMON…

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The Monday Intertitle: Baby Ways

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 30, 2013 by dcairns

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FACT: the Hal Roach studios’ intertitles were always made out of fabric in order to use up all the waste material from the trousers-ripping sequence in PUTTING PANTS ON PHILIP YOU’RE DARN TOOTIN’.

SAILORS, BEWARE! (not quite clear if sailors should beware or if we should beware sailors) is one of the movies that included both Laurel and Hardy without formally teaming them. It may have given somebody a clue that these two were good together though, because they do share quite a few scenes. Stan has all his familiar schtick including the screwed-up-face bawling, but can also be tough and assertive and articulate in a way that’s distinct from his later team-up character. Ollie is Ollie in terms of mannerisms, but he’s playing a guy who thinks he’s a ladies’ man — there’s no hint of Oliver Norville Hardy’s sexual timidity, which always lay in wait behind his mask of southern chivalry.

It can be quite weird seeing the boys in earlier roles, applying their repertoire of acting techniques to different situations. In NO MAN’S LAW, Ollie plays a villain who espies the heroine enjoying a nude dip (in water perhaps a tad clearer than anyone expected). He has to express rapacious lust — which he does by pulling his pants up an extra inch or two and briskly rotating them from side to side at the waistband, a gesture familiar from countless later two-reelers and usually prefiguring some act of slapstick vengeance on James Finlayson. It sits oddly here.

Returning to SAILORS, BEWARE! Roach larded this one with goodness — we have the voluptuous Anita Garvin as a con artist, with midget Harry Earles (FREAKS) as her sidekick, in baby girl drag — and yes, he does smoke a cigar a la Baby Herman. We also get Lupe Velez as Baroness Behr, which at least is anti-type-casting. There’s some funny stuff, and it gives you just a sense of the explosion of comic energy that was going to come when the two stars really paired up.

vlcsnap-2013-12-29-18h14m43s230Abjection!

Am curious to see more proto-L&H films — anybody got any recommendations?

Fleisch-Auswirkungen

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

Something's Got to Give (1962)

Billy Wilder, attempting to define the mysterious potency of Marilyn Monroe, said that “She had great flesh impact,” which is an absolutely VILE phrase, calling to mind the image of an overweight naked person colliding with one’s windscreen (I should never have drunk those pina coladas and smoked that crack!) but we kind of know what he means. Interestingly, the physical sense of corporeal heft and presence is strong for Monroe both in colour and black-and-white, though subtly different in each. Her nude scene in the never-completed Cukor SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE is all impressionistic light-on-water sparkle, yet she still comes across peachy and squeezy. In SOME LIKE IT HOT she’s a topographical riot in a highly censorable Orry-Kelly creation that’s halfway between a dress and a shadow.

So the term has use. In RASHOMON, which is Kurosawa’s most tactile film, Mifune has flesh impact too —

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Machiko Kyo makes expressive use of the Mifune shoulder-flesh.

But it’s such a horrible phrase. Wilder, a great writer, surely sensed that, but being Wilder he probably didn’t care — his films commingle the desirable and the icky in highly personal ways — “It’s just your basic slashed-wrists love scene,” he told his cameraman on SUNSET BLVD, and in A FOREIGN AFFAIR he outraged his co-author Charles Brackett with the insistence that Marlene Dietrich should spit toothpaste at her lover.

I wondered if it sounded better in German, and using Google Translate I found out. “Fleisch auswirkungen” is what was suggested. It still sounds vile, but strangely cool and scientific at the same time. Add it to your glossary of film terminology now.

Who else has flesh impact? Don’t say Eugene Pallette — I would argue that, apart from his head, a magnificently crenellated pudding which certainly packs a torso’s worth of beef into a confined space, he’s more of a boulder than a body. Think more lateral-subtle-surprise. Who?