Archive for August, 2017

Last Ad at Marienbad

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

A day of celebration! I’ve found another Richard Lester ad. Considering he spent decades shooting the things, they’re remarkably hard to uncover evidence of. The caroselli he made in Italy, which were supposed to be destroyed after one screening, are easier to find than his UK commercials.

I was set on the trail of this one by rereading a 1969 interview in Directors in Action: “One that might have run into trouble was a Grant’s Whiskey short I did in 1960, to be sold to the Middle East. We tried to make it seem like an aphrodisiac! It went down very well, that one, and because it was about the time of Last Year at Marienbad it was done in that vein.”

At 03.01 in this reel we get THREE ads for Grant’s, all clearly executed by the same team. I can’t actually swear these are Lester’s work. Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask him next week… But the MARIENBAD stylistic connection seems clear — the elegance of Resnais’ visuals translates all too easily into adland glamour! And the cutting! That’s what makes me think it’s Lester, the rhythms are so extraordinary. I would guess that Nic Roeg shot these, but again, I’d be guessing. The focus-pulls through foreground objects occur in HELP!, PETULIA, CUBA. There are shots in ad 2 that seem straight out of the park sequence in PETULIA. That low angle of the waterfall!

These ads would totally have been banned later on — associating drink with luxury, youth, opulent lifestyle, became something the authorities in Britain came down on. Admen had to be quite clever to find any kind of attractive images they could use at all. It’s also kind of ironic since I don’t get the impression Grant’s is that classy a whiskey (always faintly disappointing to see Jon Finch drinking Bell’s in THE FINAL PROGRAMME. Maybe it was director Robert Fuest’s tipple of choice, but frankly…)

In a 1973 Sight & Sound interview Lester also claims to have mimicked MARIENBAD for an L&M cigarette commercial — he, Karel Reisz and John Schlesinger each made one. But I haven’t been able to track those down, alas.


See II: Second Sight

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


It just occurred to me that they missed a trick when they omitted to call their BASIC INSTINCT sequel BASIC INSTINCT II: BASER INSTINCT. Just as SPEED II should have been subtitled THE QUICKENING (HIGHLANDER II could have been called HIGHERLANDER) and RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD should simply have been called SECOND BLOOD. There’s an argument that RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES should have been followed by APEX OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. It is perhaps to be regretted that TRAINSPOTTING II didn’t go with BACK IN THE HABIT.

After DIE HARDER we should have had DIE HARDEST, which might have stopped the series cold, and not before time — subsequent installments would have had to go with titles like DIE EVEN HARDESTER which would have served as a kind of health warning.

Auto Camp

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2017 by dcairns

So, I don’t know these things, not being American — is Big Ed’s Gas Farm in Twin Peaks a recognisable kind of thing? Do service stations get called stuff like “gas farms” in the US? In pre-code HEAT LIGHTNING, sisters Aline McMahon and Ann Dvorak run an “auto camp” out in the desert, and the characters who pass through (a multifarious bunch) accept the name as if it were an entirely familiar concept. To us, it’s like a service station with a tiny motel out back.

Brilliant film. Part of Warners’ unofficial program to document the full panoply of American life. They had to do an auto camp eventually. I’m a little sad they never got around to making a film based entirely in an automat. I love automats.

McMahon & Dvorak and Preston Foster & Lyle Talbot provide drama, while such interlopers as Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Glenda Farrell, Edgar Kennedy and Jane Darwell provide comedy. The balance is spot on. It has the structure of a play, but never seems theatrical, thanks to the WB house style and the atmospheric location shooting.

Something strange and interesting — since the cafe is a central part of the action, and it has big windows, the film features an unusual fluidity between indoors and outdoors. Some scenes are simultaneously both, like a conversation conducted by the sisters through a screen door (in which Mervyn Leroy is guilty of one of his semi-regular confusing line-crosses). Either Warners shot on location at a real auto camp or they built the whole place in situ.

Never do this.

And then a funny thing happens when night falls. Since location night shooting without obvious light sources would be a real headache, and since the story requires lightning bolts to illuminate the sky, the second part of the film switches to the studio. The whole set of buildings is reconstructed in an artificial landscape, with each rock, each joshua tree replaced by an identical replica.  We seem to have relocated, yet not to have moved. The black cyclorama representing the night sky is lit up by quick flashes, and it’s some of the most convincing movie lightning I’ve seen, far better in terms of realism than all those jagged animations, which always wiggle about too long, determined to be appreciated as spectacle.

The slightly uncanny doubling of the film’s sole setting reminded me of another service station, the sinister Convenience Store known as The Dutchman’s, recently seen in Twin Peaks. (We have convenience stores too, sort of, but usually without petrol pumps.) And that in turn reminded Fiona of the fatal service station in Sapphire and Steel, which TP co-creator has surely seen…

The Lynchian conceptual link is cemented by the fact that this seems to be the ur-text of a persistent noir meme, in which a character — McMahon in this case — leaves behind a shady or corrupt life in order to work at a service station — a meme continued by Burt Lancaster in THE KILLERS, Robert Mitchum in OUT OF THE PAST, Brian Donlevy in IMPACT, and finally (to date, so far as I’m aware) and most strangely, Balthazar Getty in LOST HIGHWAY…