Juice Ex Machina

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The perfect cocktail recipe — a bit like Bunuel’s but with traditional vermouth, not Angustura bitters. Just one of the helpful life lessons imparted in this film!

I remembered liking COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT — someone recently suggested I revisit it — Fiona has an idea for a movie about artificial intelligence — she hadn’t seen this one since she was a teenager — so it seemed right to look at it again. Probably the last screening I experienced was pan-and-scanned, and it’s a lovely widescreen film with magnificent blocking.

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I’m a great fan of Joseph Sargent’s THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and it was exciting to note that some of that film’s best tropes are trotted out here too (strengtheningĀ the case for Sargent as artist rather than just journeyman) — we have a nice example of the Fritz Lang cutting that binds together PELHAM, with one scene’s opening shot or line answering a question or completing a thought introduced at the end of the preceding sequence — it is of course entirely right for a film about a superbrain dictator to borrow from MABUSE in this manner. We also have a dynamically, shockingly abrupt ending, though “Never” here isn’t quite as strong as “Gesundheit” in PELHAM — the editor, Folmar Blangsted, having I think gotten overly caught up in an arty splitscreen sequence to the detriment of the character.

Speaking of character — my memory of the film was that all the humans in it were kind of flat, not in a 2001 way (though that movie must have been an influence), where the deliberately low-affect perfs were a bold attempt at authenticity — astronauts MUST NOT be excitable people — but more like THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, where Michael Crichton’s inability to write human beings filtered through into the movie and left us with a rather dowdy, gray set of central figures. But actually COLOSSUS strikes a neat balance between realistically low-key and frustratingly cold — Eric Braeden is simply masterful in the lead, not too endearing, not too frosty, and with enough ironic humour to humanize and ironize the proceedings. We found ourselves just adoring every little thing he did.

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Fiona: “Why isn’t this a celebrated classic?”

Also: some lovely Albert Whitlock matte paintings. Jazzy music by Michel Colombier (an unexpected escapee from the universe of Jacques Demy) who interacts with the actors movements around the widescreen frame and the clickings and whirrings of the amusingly antiquated Colossus (it uses punch-holes! bless its silicon heart) in a snappy, syncopated style. The smart script is by James Bridges, and it has to balance the requirements of a thriller with more cerebral concerns — nobody ever seems to strain to close the gap between the two.

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9 Responses to “Juice Ex Machina”

  1. Jack Lechner Says:

    You may enjoy this exhaustive post about Stanley Chase, the itinerant producer of C:TFP, from Stephen Bowie’s Classic TV History blog: http://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/the-fabulous-career-of-stanley-chase/

  2. Thanks! Seems like a maverick talent, which makes sense given the film’s oddness.

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    I suppose I should see it again. It seemed very cheap at the time, but the problem was probably Paul Frees, as the voice of the computer.
    Frees gave it a tacky sound because he was the go-to-guy for re-voicing problematic actors in movies, and cheap producers seemed to love him because they could dub a half-dozen actors with one “artiste”. And when COLOSSUS came out, Frees was voice had already been everywhere: he’d done Tony Curtis’ Geraldine incarnation in SOME LIKE IT HOT, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Haunted Mansion narrator, had a 3-way conversation with himself in RODAN, etc.,etc. So his voice was, if not well known, very well SENSED. I attended a revival screening of Hawks’ THE THING in the early 70’s, and a friend asked why a certain actor’s voiced had been dubbed; that’s right, it was Paul Frees himself, speaking words out of his own face. So I will look at it again, but I somehow fear the computer will somehow sound like an imitation of Marvin Miller as Robby the Robot in FORBIDDEN PLANET.

  4. Randy Cook Says:

    “Frees was voice” should be “Frees’ voice”, as though it matters.

  5. I believe Paul Frees even dubbed Kenneth More in “Scrooge”, somebody deciding Ghost of Christmas Present needed that deep, familiar voice.

  6. Wow — can’t imagine More was happy about that.

    Colossus = some guy talking through a vocoder type arangement. The actual actor makes very little impact, but the dramatic effect is quite strong since the computer only acquires speech very late in the story.

    Whitlock’s paintings are variable, with some nice mountainsides. The interior of Colossus is very painted-looking, and very Krell Laboratories in design, but enjoyable. A hint of Death Star to come, complete with architecturally puzzling Yawning Chasm — perhaps Colossus needed his own Corpus Calossum.

  7. Randy Cook Says:

    He starts talking late in the film? That must be why it made a negative impression upon me. I mean, we’d heard a “perfect” computer voice a few years only a few years before, in Kubrick’s 2001 (part of its impact being that the voice was unfamiliar, or at least not so ubiquitous as that of Frees). When Colossus started intoning “FORRRBINNN!” in the voice of the aliens from EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS and the Talking Rings from THE TIME MACHINE, I felt the filmmakers were letting me down. That casting director needed a good spanking.

  8. Randy Cook Says:

    Damn it, I will learn to proof read one of these days!

  9. He did well on the humans, who have a nice mixture of low-key naturalism and quiet authority. It seems using unfamiliar faces was a deliberate ploicy on this picture, so it’s all the more incomprehensible that they went with an overly familiar voice.

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