Archive for January, 2019

Only One Man

Posted in FILM with tags , , on January 21, 2019 by dcairns

 

In every joke there is an element of truth. But not this time.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Intrigue

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2019 by dcairns

Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film THE FAVOURITE has intertitles! Or at any rate chapter titles. This poster gives you an idea of the adventurous use of type. They’re all lines of dialogue we haven’t yet heard, so it’s a rather literary use of foreknowledge. They say things like THIS MUD STINKS. Or ~

A bit like the book illustrations in BUSTER SCRUGGS, in fact. This could be on its way to being a new stylistic norm, the way starting a story near the end, at a crisis point, has become something of a cliché.

The film’s other stylistic ideas are adventurous too, though one can see where they come from. The candlelight and low angle tracking shots and slow dissolves are from Kubrick (as is one music cue, via BARRY LYNDON); the perriwigged foppery and arch sexual cruelty is pure DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. The plot, as Fiona pointed out, owes plenty to ALL ABOUT EVE. The spirit of the Marquis De Sade is not far away either, though he’s locked in a closet so all he can do is shout suggestions through the keyhole.

Dave Ehrenstein, via Facebook, has already attested to a hearty dislike for the film, due to its encouraging the audience to feel superior to the characters. Which is a good reason, and if my feelings waver between cautious admiration and squeamishness it’s probably because I didn’t read the film’s signals quite that way. I had quite a lot of sympathy for Emma Stone’s character all the way through: she’s pushed into doing evil because, Sade-style, there are no rewards for being good. It’s possible we’re meant to regard her as having been a schemer from the start, but even then, she’s got good reason for wanting to attain power: her position without it is desperate.

Stone is good, and Rachel Weiss is really good, which hasn’t always been the case. Her attitude to the offscreen war — tax the farmers to starvation and fight until the soldiers are all dead — is as uncompromising as her abuse of Stone’s character. With similar results, nearly: if the underlings realise they’re in for it no matter what, rebellion becomes their logical recourse. So the art of governance is the science of knowing what you can get away with.

Nicholas Hoult, as the Whig leader opposed to the war, is deliberately written as vicious as everyone else, so that his apparent political compassion doesn’t make him a kindly bore: and so it can be read as him simply trying to preserve the status quo. He’s very good — he has something of Hugh Grant’s light comedy skills, Fiona suggested.

She also remarked that all these characters are after power as a means to happiness, but the character who has all the power, the Queen, is the most wretchedly unhappy of all. (If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.) Fiona did a bit of digging into Queen Anne and found a strange historical obsession with her gouty body, which this film connects to directly. It’s hagsploitation, of course. Olivia Colman is excellent in a very showy part requiring an abandonment of all vanity and an ability to reconcile, at least to her own satisfaction, the character’s innumerable contradictions: she’s alternately cunning, stupid, heartbroken, vicious, kindly, mad, confused… plus she keeps suffering destructive neurological events (too much cake is bad for you).

The script is by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, and it’s quite witty — often in a very basic way, surprising you with sudden brutality or swearing. But that can be witty. It can also get tiresome. Sympathy is the enemy of drama — but some tiny, homeopathic dose of it may be needed to keep the audience engaged. I had to work a little to find any sympathy, and in the end I found it in myself, by an effort of imagination, not so much in the film.

I’ve neglected Yorgos Lanthimos, along with the rest of modern cinema. The only thing of his I’d seen is this short, courtesy of a student, but I can feel a bit smug because the IMDb doesn’t even know this exists (it does, but it calls it a documentary) ~

High Wire Actors

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2019 by dcairns

How nice! Out of the blue, regular Shadowplayer Chris Schneider offers me a piece on Elia Kazan’s oft-dismissed cold war/iron curtain circus drama, MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. And I am delighted to receive it, and pass it on to you ~

What a joy to find out that the Kazan-directed MAN ON A TIGHTROPE is every bit as good as one hoped it would be.

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I had vague memories of seeing MAN ON A TIGHTROPE as a child. A decade or two later, I chanced while channel-surfing on Terry Moore and Cameron Mitchell being swept by a river with “The Moldau” on the soundtrack. This time ’round I watched because of the names Elia Kazan and Gloria Grahame, the latter visible as a circus-director’s sluttish second wife. And I’ll stand by my verdict offered midway through: heavy-handed, yes, but drippin’ with atmosphere and good performances.


Franz Waxman’s score for this story of a Czech circus is heavy on the “Moldau.” Also on the Harry Warren tune “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which must have made the Fox studio people happy. The clowns dance to it, you see.

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MAN ON A TIGHTROPE stands midway, in Kazan’s credits, between VIVA ZAPATA! and ON THE WATERFRONT. We get Kazan as director, Robert E. Sherwood of THE PETRIFIED FOREST as scenarist, and Gerd Oswald of A KISS BEFORE DYING and CRIME OF PASSION as one of the producers. Also, crucially, there’s out-of-studio shooting on Bavarian location, which makes for a look that’s black&white, bleak, and full of mittel-europaische detail.


Gloria Grahame is always worth seeing. I’ve yet to watch MANSION OF THE DOOMED, but I probably will. Hell, I’m even happy with her talking at the tv contestants in MELVIN AND HOWARD.

Here Grahame’s fine, at the end, tossing aside a life-sized doll, one of the clown props, with the implication that she’s tossing aside her assigned role as pretty useless wife. There’s a good MARNIE-esque bit with husband March veering and the camera getting closer and closer.

Not exactly defensible, this last bit of behavior, but effective as pathology.


I should probably expand on that “heavy-handed.”

This is very much a Cold War film. Fredric March, as protagonist, plays the weary cuckolded director of a shabby circus who leads his people in an escape from behind the Iron Curtain. (That’s a phrase my Spellcheck keeps changing to “Zircon Curtain.”)

March “regains his manhood,” if you wanna call it that, and the respect of wife Grahame in this escape, leading the circus from a place where authorities demand that he adjust — and ruin — the ideological implications of a clown act to a place where U.S. border guards laugh at the clowns freely. In other words: it’s a case of “East Europeans, glum; U.S. representatives, uproarious.”

There’s also the presence of Adolphe Menjou as a party lackey who smirks and threatens March. Similar in function to the Ward Bond role in JOHNNY GUITAR, I thought; both instances of off-screen rep adding to on-screen menace.

Which leads to that river and “The Moldau” sweeping along March’s daughter Moore and her Americanski boyfriend Mitchell. A bit reminiscent, this, of that old James Agee joke about tendentious WW2 melodramas and how “You cannot keel da spirit off a free pipples!” Or words to that effect.


People complain about the atmosphere of guilt and humiliation on display in MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. But isn’t that the bread-and-butter of circus pictures, from HE WHO GETS SLAPPED up through SAWDUST AND TINSEL and onwards?

“Women are not angels,” Grahame half-sings at one point. Neither are the people who made MAN ON A TIGHTROPE. And that includes directors who name names.


I admire the atmosphere of MAN ON A TIGHTROPE.

I admire the performances — even by a post-LITTLE SHEBA Moore playing what one lyricist once called “a nice girl who’s really not too nice.”

I admire the film’s passing bits of schmerzlich-suss … such as, f’rinstance, Alex D’Arcy’s lion-tamer remarking that his curse has been his good looks.

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The film itself is schmerzlich-suss. Indeed.