Archive for March, 2017

It is the middle ground between light and shadow…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on March 31, 2017 by dcairns

I was duty-bound to writer about this one, wasn’t I?

In this season 2 Twilight Zone episode, Charles Beaumont pens and Dennis Weaver stars. It’s a tale of a recurring dream — Weaver is electrocuted nightly — we never see his waking life. The episode isn’t quite clear if it wants us to worry about the execution, Weaver’s perpetual oneiric torment, or the threat to the dream-characters — he warns them that if he’s executed, they’ll cease to exist. This splitting of our concerns is an imperfection, and possibly a real problem, but it works out OK since Weaver is so compelling and the unusual direct cutting back and forth between characters builds tension, and the whole waiting for execution scenario is pretty surefire as a dramatic device.

Weaver insists that irl he has no experience of trials and death-houses, so his imagination is constructing this world out of movie clichés, and so it would appear — Weaver gives an intense, perfervid performance as you’d expect from him, and everybody else is basically from Central Casting. This leads to the episode’s best stuff… Weaver, talking to the priest, speculates about where his memory has produced this priest’s face from. Then he remembers it, and tells the priest a story about a real priest who died when he was ten. And he tells this story happily, because he’s pleased he remembered it — he’d been struggling to place the man. This is all very uncomfortable for the priest.

Then, out of the blue, he tells the D.A. a weird tale about the steak his wife is cooking. We’ve already seen this meat in a shock cut from Weaver describing his execution to the oven tray being pulled out with a harsh metallic grating sound, the steak sizzling like a condemned man. If the DA goes home, “It’ll be something different!” insists Weaver. The D.A. heads back to the kitchen and finds a big, juicy joint where the steak once sizzled. WHY? No real explanation, but a great moment of phildickian uncanny.

The nice directorial touches are courtesy of John Brahm, Teutonic noir specialist, who throws in a very novel split-screen effect to show the long walk to the chair as Weaver describes it, and whose opening shot includes a dramatic pull-back with a theatrical lighting change so that Weaver starts out isolated in darkness before the world emerges around him. Niiice.

Inevitably, the meat-induced reprieve comes too late, so Weaver fries, and is then launched back into scene 1 — a DEAD OF NIGHT style strange loop, with no interval of waking reality at all. As a final pay-off, the scene plays out as before, but with the faces all jumbled up — Weaver’s cell neighbour is now the judge, the priest is now a juror, etc. A real dream feel.

Good grim episode, with no lightening of the mood whatsoever, and a central character going through an irrational hellish punishment. Just what we want from this show.

“We know that a dream can be real. But whoever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but… but how? In what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings? Or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it. And then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in the twilight zone?”

And to cap the whole thing off in a horrifying kind of way, Rod Serling appears with the instrument of his own doom ~

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Bear Lady

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on March 30, 2017 by dcairns

This fortnight’s Forgotten visits a movie I revelled in at the Bo’ness Hippodrome, and now so can you do too, by the medium of word-writings! Nell Shipman stars, directs, produces, writes and wrangles THE GRUB-STAKE. Here.

It’s also on YouTube if you actually want to viscerally rather that vicariously experience it.

Hanging Tree

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2017 by dcairns

There was a bit of a gold rush theme at Hippfest this year, with Nell Shipman’s THE GRUB STAKE and Lev Kuleshov’s BY THE LAW, both set in Alaska / Yukon respectively.

Kuleshov’s vaunted “effect” is in play, but he also has physiognomical miracles to work with in his actors, particularly Aleksandra Khokhlova (no sniggering), a kind of horsey skeleton, and vein-popping Vladimir Fogel (bit of a bulging blood-vessel theme too, since HANDS OF ORLAC was also screened). The screen is at all times full of either blasting weather conditions or straining thespians projecting their conniptions at us with every muscle. Marvelous.

The live music was by guitarist R.M. Hubbert, and was one of Hippfest’s few incomplete successes — it was very lovely and dreamy, but not very responsive to the film. While Kuleshov and his team wrestled with the elements to produce cabin fever, “Hubby” strummed lovingly as if set on soothing our nerves, making the experience considerably more restful than you would expect, given the film’s subject matter. it was a bold experiment, and it’s testimony to the music’s beauty that it didn’t induce a kind of cabin fever of its own, consisting as it did of the same bit played over and over for ninety minutes — I could have listened to it for ninety more, but it didn’t do much for the story.

That story derives from Jack London, a surprise choice for Soviet adaptation on the face of it (though he was an ardent socialist). Kuleshov’s visualisation of it is beyond reproach, but his few changes to the narrative are either propagandistic or just bizarre — so odd that I suspect a propaganda intent even if I can’t figure out what it was. We were all quite struck by the film’s ending, in which (spoiler!) a character returns from the dead. Is he a ghost, the manifestation of guilty consciences, or did he just not die properly in the first place? I turned to London’s source story, The Unexpected, for answers — and no such incident occurs.

Well, I can’t see the Soviets adding a ghost where none existed, the psychological approach seems at odds with the film’s very externalized approach (apoplectic actors, rainstorms and floods, stunningly rendered, which suggest real, life-threatening natural events rather than Lear-like symbols), and so we’re left with the executed man simply not being dead. I guess London’s downbeat, dying fall of an ending wouldn’t have played in the Urals. Ironically, though, the one thing that could have explained the bizarre surprise twist would have been retaining London’s original title. It certainly was unexpected.

Images via Brandon and thunderb.