Archive for February, 2019

Cant Sleep: Bed’s on Fire

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2019 by dcairns

Our next podcast will be about Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Oliver Norval Hardy, with special guest Stephen C. Horne joining the discussion. So we’ve been looking at lots of the Hal Roach shorts.

THEY GO BOOM is positively Lynchian, especially when, at the climax, the boys’ bed is overinflated with domestic gas and rises like an impossible cake, bearing its occupants ceilingwards with an ominous HISSSSSS.

Nightmarish. We anticipate some comic invention will introduce a spark and cause the dirigible to explode and, for once, fulfill the title, but it’s not as logical as all that. Ollie sneezes and that alone is enough to ignite the holocaust.

Also good to see diminutive Mancunian Brummie Charley Hall as the landlord, anticipating his identical role in the classic LAUGHING GRAVY. While Edgar Kennedy and James Finlayson are excellent foils, making the “normal” people the boys interact with seem as daft as the central duo, Hall is genuinely a force of evil — he could surely have portrayed a convincing psychopath. His shortness ought to give him a Yosemite Sam absurdity, unlike the more imposing Walter Lang, who always brought the fear of actual mayhem with him, but in fact Hall is even scarier than Lang. He is simply malign.

There’s something slightly off about this one, though, since the major plotline, Ollie having a cold, makes him TOO pitiful. His natural dominance and self-importance need to be in play to make his awful mishaps truly funny. He can’t be merely a victim, he has to be somewhat full of himself. Here he’s just full of phlegm.

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An Odyssey in Bits: The Computer Wore Carpet Slippers

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2019 by dcairns

2001’s intermission plays for several seconds with just the hushed mechanical hum/sussuration of the Discovery (and probably HAL’s cooling system), continuing over from the HAL POV shot Part 1 ended on. This feels quite avant-garde.

A nice, ominous Ligeti drone carries us through the entr’acte, and then we’re abruptly in an extra-vehicular wide shot with astronaut Poole leaving the Discovery in his repair pod. Kubrick doesn’t try to reorient us. As often in this film, he jumps ahead as far as he can and lets us catch up through our own thought processes.And HAL goes murderous, using Poole’s own pod to snip his air-tube. Great use of sudden silence as Kubes jumps in, straight down the line to the pod, showing HAL’s cyclopean sunset of an eye staring out of it. Astute visual storytelling. The abrupt enlarging cuts (about four of them, I think?) remind me of the bomb that’s about to explode in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE.Poole’s rapid movements as he asphyxiates are all the scarier for occurring in the eerie silence of space. ASTONISHING that other space movies don’t use the lack of sound as a positive effect.

Watch Keir Dullea’s movements as he goes to the rescue, and we can tell he’s meant to be in zero-G with grips shoes for traction. So that settles it: only the big rotating hamster wheel in the Discovery’s frontal globe has gravity.

In his haste, he forgets his space helmet. What would HAL have done if he’d brought it along? Apart from the pods and maybe the airlocks, he’s helpless, a brain in a box. But right now, he seems to have his opponent in check.

Also, a rule that is never explained but seems to be important: though HAL can take over a pod while it’s unoccupied, he can’t override the pilot’s manual control. So Dullea-as-Bowman is able to retrieve Poole’s corpse. Which allows the next stuff to happen.Meanwhile, very quietly, without any fuss, HAL kills the sleeping crewmembers. VERY funny conversation between Bowman and HAL. HAL periodically adopts the snooty tone of a teacher scolding a recalcitrant child. “I think we both know what the problem is.” The dialogue is blackly comic, and enhanced by the shots, which show a small round spacecraft talking to — negotiating with — a big long one.I love the projections on Keir Dullea’s chiselled features, especially this one. No REAL reason why they should happen, file under “visual interest,” but they pass by our defenses without a struggle. The monitors and lights in the pod MIGHT have that effect.

Funny how HAL’s closeup is always exactly the same shot. Kubrick must have shot a whole reel of it. Knowing him, probably two reels. You COULD vary it for “visual interest” and to make HAL seem alive, give him moods. But HAL is not alive, and Kubrick does not want to anthropomorphize him unduly. Which is why he cast a Canadian, I guess. (I’m kidding!)“Without your space helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.”

What Bowman does now may not be exactly possible/scientifically accurate. Kubrick has been ridiculously careful to set up the EXPLOSIVE BOLTS that can open the back of the pod all at once. So that’s fine. The air rushing from the pod cannons Bowman into the Discovery airlock. But he doesn’t explode like the guys in OUTPOST. Douglas Adams produces a “fact” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about how long a human can survive in the vacuum of space, but in reality I believe the amount of time you can survive is none time. Now, since Bowman is wearing a space suit sans helmet round his body, maybe he’s protected from having his lungs explode. And only his head will freeze. But look: Keir Dullea is holding his breath. His little cheeks are puffed out. Well, I think either he’d be forced to exhale or else those cheeks would pop like soap bubbles.But he might be able to survive a few seconds of airless, empty lungs and a freezing head as the airlock closes and repressurizes. And it’s a gripping, convincing sequence. The tension is such that you can’t call 2001 an unemotional film.

Always interesting when the control freak director goes wobbly and handheld, though I’m posi-sure he’s operating the camera himself. (US union rules might have forbade this, but in the UK things were looser in this one respect.) Dave, now helmeted (a dissolve disposes of the question of whether HAL has voided the ship’s atmosphere) goes in for the kill.

HAL’s brain is composed of numerous perspex slabs — like mini see-thru monoliths — which haven’t dated at all because who knows how they work? Whereas earlier, HAL had popped a punch card out a slot, which seems a little embarrassing now.

Characters who sing touching songs in Kubrick films: Christiane Kubrick at the end of PATHS OF GLORY; HAL here; any more?MEMORY TERMINAL

Poor HAL! I remember as a kid finding his slurring voice hilarious, and I still do, but as one gets less callous with age, I also get a big charge of pathos from the scene. “My mind is going. I can feel it. There can be no question about it.” And he reverts to childhood: the song was part of a demonstration he gave shortly after activation.

Interesting choice by Dullea — and I want to give him credit for it BEING a choice, not just his sculpted inexpressiveness. He plays the scene tense, and there’s an undercurrent of anger, but then the anger goes away. He doesn’t perform sympathy for us, like he feels sorry for HAL, but the removal of the anger tells us that he does. A bit.

EXTREMELY bold use of repetition. Very few human characters in films have had their death scenes lingered on so lovingly.

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a…fraid.”

I had a friend whose Mac would say “My mind is going,” in Douglas Rain’s voice whenever he powered it down.Then Dr. Heywood Floyd pops onto a screen for plot reasons. No obvious reason why it happens now — no reason why HAL’s termination should activate the autoplay function, since mission control never anticipated that HAL *would* be deactivated. 2001 only appears rational and precise: Kubrick and Clarke play fast and loose whenever it suits their purposes.

Clarke always felt it was a shame that the film never made clear why HAL went crazy: it’s all mission control’s fault. Not because they didn’t program him with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, but because they told him to lie. This would appear to be the moment when Kubrick expects us to figure that out, but all we’re told is that only HAL knew the purpose of the mission. All this to keep the Russkies from knowing about the Jupiter signal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford a Monolith Gap.”

But Floyd’s appearance does add a weird blast of mental energy to the plot, despite his trademark laid-back manner. It’s a big AH-HAH! for the audience since for the first time it’s confirmed that the Jupiter mission does have some connection with the previous part of the film. Remember, we know the ape-man and Clavius sequences had a narrative link because the monolith was in both. But for its entire duration until now, the Discovery mission has been some random astronauts and their fun-loving onboard computer off on a spree. We didn’t know the whining noise on the Moon was a message, a beacon, pointing to Jupiter. We do now. What next?

 

Don’t Mention the War

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2019 by dcairns

Here I would be writing about THE ODESSA FILE, since it seemed the natural follow-up viewing for BOYS FROM BRAZIL. It ought to be a more serious take on the subject of neo-Nazi resurgence, right?

I found it unwatchable — so what follows is not a review, just a series of random notes.

The script is terrible — that much I can say after ten minutes. The opening lays out the plot in a crass infodump that spoils any fun the viewer could have following an unfolding mystery, and the dialogue, my God. When a character says “X and I like you,” and Jon Voight replies in a phony German accent, “I like you and X,” it’s kind of OK because it makes a joke about how on-the-nose it is. But it’s the least on-the-nose dialogue in the film. When we first see Jon Voight with his stripper girlfriend Mary Tamm (!) their conversation is all about how he’s a freelance reporter because he likes his independence and she’s a stripper because she can earn money that way. When Voight asks a cop about a suicide, the cop goes into a loud, angry-sounding spiel about how the case is of no interest and the newspapers would never cover it, which ought to make any journalist suspicious, but (a) Voight remains merely casually curious and (b) the script wants us to believe that this isn’t a cover-up, just a cop stating the facts.Ronald Neame = world’s most festive director. He made SCROOGE, or course, but also THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, in which the expensive cast literally climbs a Christmas tree to escape. This one begins with Perry Como singing Christmas Dream as Voight drives through a lit-up Berlin. (BOYS FROM BRAZIL prominently credits its Elaine Paige number, hilariously entitled We’re Home Again, which plays for about ten seconds as accompaniment to Linda Hayden and Michael Gough’s sex-murder).

(The jocular and avuncular Neame would have made great casting as either Santa — perhaps in place of his chum Attenborough — of the Ghost of Christmas Present, maybe.)

Jon Voight, wearing a brown coat in a brown car interior drives through a brown Berlin Christmas.

In the seventies, it seems, you could get brown Christmas lights.Tamm works at a strip club called REGINA. But that may be a typo.

It’s a muddy, ugly film, especially the urban stuff. They must have wanted it that way. You can see why making it look like OCEAN’S ELEVEN might not have seemed inappropriate. Still, there are gorgeously ugly seventies films (THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN makes fluorescent striplights glamorous) and this isn’t one, even though it’s shot by the great Ossie Morris. He does get to work in b&w for some WWII flashbacks, but these are highly dubious sequences by their very nature: flashbacking away from the main character just to serve up some Nazi war crimes feels wrong wrong wrong. Can you tell I’ve been watching Claude Lanzmann?

THE ODESSA FILE stars Joe Buck; Hauptmann (Capt.) Stransky; Helena Friese-Greene; Romana; Francis Bacon; Inspector Trout; Unteroffizier (Cpl.) Krüger; Von Luger ‘The Kommandant’; Professor Karl Manfred; Dr. Ravna; and, inevitably, Mr. Slugworth.