Archive for November, 2014

The Sunday Intertitle: Style and Title

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2014 by dcairns

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Getting back to Edinburgh on Thursday, I returned to work the following day to see a talk by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and producer, director of the Malcolm McDowell documentary O LUCKY MALCOLM! etc (pictured above with Head of Film & TV Emma Davie).

Harlan is a delightful fellow, and the theme of his talk — music in cinema — was one he was well-qualified to discuss having worked with Kubrick on all his scores from 2001 on, and having an extensive knowledge of classical music. The wide range of film clips he presented illustrated how music can be used as a storytelling tool, to control the pace, to enhance character and to generally beautify the film. Harlan was, in effect, proselytizing for classical music and suggesting that all filmmakers should study it and fall in love with it. “If you don’t love it, you’re likely to ruin it,” was his mantra. And, “If you want to know how you acquire ownership of art, it’s very simple: you just fall in love with it and it becomes yours.”

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It’s a huge and tricky subject. My advice has often been to never use a piece of music you know from another film. TV magazine shows do this — so that you couldn’t escape PULP FICTION’s surf guitar for at least a year on TV — and many documentaries do this, because to a large extent documentaries haven’t learned to take themselves seriously as art — hence they recycle titles from other movies, or slightly adapt them, which otherwise only porno movies do. There are exceptions to my rule — years before Kubrick made the Blue Danube his own, Julien Duvivier had used in memorably in THE GREAT WALTZ, where obviously you couldn’t avoid it, but more excitingly, Clouzot had used it with great imagination in THE WAGES OF FEAR, where Yves Montand slewed his truck all over the road in waltz time. But Kubrick had confidence that he could trump those films, and he was right.

But when that plinky-plonk bit of Carl Orff that forms the theme of BADLANDS gets used in TRUE ROMANCE and MONSTER, the filmmakers don’t think they’re superceding BADLANDS. They’re just copying BADLANDS. And the thinking seems to be, “Young couple, road movie, murders, therefore we need the music from BADLANDS.” Absurd. The deliberate placing of your film in second-best position. A failure of imagination. A dive into the mediocre.

Harlan’s suggestion to study the field is sound advice, because filmmakers have exhibited a dreadful tendency to repeat the same few pieces of the repertoire until they become unsuitable for any use save parody. Barber’s Adaggio is an obvious victim (David Lynch used it beautifully before PLATOON, and when Harlan showed the PLATOON clip I was struck by the obscenity of it — whose tragedy is this music expressing? As the American soldiers burn a Vietnamese village and separate civilian families, we are being asked to feel sorry for the soldiers, the poor youth of America who are being corrupted by violence). Lahkme by Delibes has been done to death not just by Tony Scott, who in fairness obviously loved the piece, but by everyone else who can’t be bothered selecting something less hackneyed (Brian DePalma and CARLITO’S WAY, stand up).

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The counter-argument to Harlan and Kubrick’s suggestion that the best music ever composed is all available to us, is that it may be the best music but is it right for the film you’re making? It’s notable that FULL METAL JACKET uses not only considerable original score, performed by Kubrick’s daughter on the Fairlight synthesiser, the rest of its music is period-appropriate pop of a particularly and deliberately moronic nature (I like some of those songs a lot, but taken as a group I think they’re making a not-too-subtle comment of the dumbness of pop culture). Maybe PLATOON and APOCALYPSE NOW forced Kubrick’s hand — using classical pieces would have invited invidious comparisons — but I think Kubrick’s ultimate decision also skirts the western-centric solemnity and false dignity that could come from pasting high culture all over barbaric acts.

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Cool Robot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2014 by dcairns

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Cool robot from OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, aka MY SON THE VAMPIRE, a retitling by Columbia which makes no sense — Lugosi’s character has no parents in the film, and Mother Riley is Irish, not Jewish. She’s also a man, Arthur Lucan. In his memoirs, Ken Russell writes about this alarming, unfunny theatrical drag act as if it was all that was on offer from British cinema. I suppose it must have seemed so to him as a child — his mother scorned British movies and they would go to proper American musicals whenever they had the option.

But it’s a cool robot.

Interesting how director and writer John Gilling’s career kept circling around the horror genre, whether it was writing for Tod Slaughter or Bela Lugosi, until he finally made his mark at Hammer. I think I’ll run his PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES soon — I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched it.

Meanwhile, I’m back in Edinburgh, and just listened to Jan Harlan give a lecture on film music. More on that soon.

The Event

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , on November 28, 2014 by dcairns

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La Femis is the French national film school. It’s based on the Rue Francoeur in Montmartre, in what used to be the studios of Rapid Film, Bernard Natan’s production company. When he bought Pathe Cinema he merged the two companies together.

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The building still has its unique 1920s/30s character. The buildings surround a narrow lane into which the companies trucks could make their deliveries. From the balcony on the second floor you can look down on the works and feel like an emperor of cinema. Here, Marine Multier, Chargee de la communication, surveys her kingdom.

Down in the alley there are memorials to the dead of two world wars, studio employees who gave their lives for France, but until this week there was nothing making mention of the man who created the studio and who also died during WWII — a victim of Germany and France working together to destroy him because of his race.

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It has taken fifteen years of campaigning by the family to get the plaque put up. Things were slow because the French state owns th building so it’s all bureaucracy and committees that meet once a year. It took less than a year to strip Natan of his French citizenship, earned by service in WWI (he was wounded and decorated for bravery: they had to pass a special act to take away his citizenship), thereby rendering him stateless and ensuring his deportation to Auschwitz. But I guess that’s one difference between democracy and dictatorship: democracies move slower.

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Patient under his black curtain, Bernard Natan awaits his unveiling.