Archive for March, 2020

The Lights are Going Out

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2020 by dcairns

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Dominik Graf is this really interesting director of, largely, German crime shows. He and his favourite writers have really advanced the form. But his feature films tend not to do well.

My theory about why is that Graf is too in love with the fashionable tools of the moment — his TV shows all date fast, due to the visual tricks deployed, though this dating doesn’t really hurt them as entertainment. His up-to-the-minute stylistic flourishes, which show up in the colour correction, the fonts, the transitions, seem to militate against whatever “cinematic” means. I liked his 2014 BELOVED SISTERS but the pastel lettering splattered all over it was an abomination, and it was hard to understand how such an intelligent and nifty filmmaker could commit such an abomination.

So naturally he loves drones and they’re all over his latest TV work, Die Lüge, die wir Zukunft nennen, an episode of Polizeiruf 110. Hey, I love drones too, but something tells me the gratuitous use of them is going to age fast, and they’re CERTAINLY gratuitous here. Though one is grateful for spacious photography at this historical moment, even if it is of Munich.

Plot: a unit of cops is ordered to run surveillance on a company suspected of insider trading. The cops realize that the information they’re getting allows them a chance to get in on the action, and they start insider trading too. Then Internal Affairs start investigating the investigators and the team breaks up in acrimony, leading to OTT mayhem. It’s all delivered at the rattling pace Graf has increasingly perpetrated, barreling through confusion into sheer hysteria. Very satisfying and at times horrifying to watch.

There’s one masterstroke that owes nothing to fashion. A character is dying. There’s a lot going on: they ask him whether he wants to be buried or cremated and, delirious, he says “Surprise me.”

Graf cuts rapidly between every major room we’ve seen him in in the show, but they’re now empty. And the lights blink out, and the omnipresent computer screens go blank.

Poetry.

Beautiful, bleak.

The screenplay is by Günter Schütter.

Thanks to Hannu Nuotio.

Nixon on Ice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2020 by dcairns

SLEEPER came up in conversation the other day. You might want to consider getting frozen until this is all over (Covid-19/Trump/the Marvel universe).

The specific bit referred to is the reference to Nixon. Woody Allen has been revived from cryogenics in the year 2173, two hundred years after being put on ice. The people who have defrosted him try to bring him up to speed on historical developments.

A bit of TV news footage is screened for him: Dick Nixon addresses the nation. “Some of us have a theory that he might once have been a president of the United States, but that he did something horrendous so that all records, everything was wiped out about him. There is nothing in the history books, there are no pictures on stamps, no money…”

“Yes,” says Woody, “He actually was president of the United States, but I know that whenever he used to leave the White House the secret service used to count the silverware.”

What’s impressive here is that the movie opened in December 1973 and was presumably shot months earlier, and Nixon didn’t resign until August ’74. So that we could say that among his other accomplishments, WA doesn’t get enough credit for being a prophet.

(Please don’t let’s make this a referendum on his guilt or innocence vis-a-vis sex crimes. You’re allowed your opinion and I’m hanging on to my lack of one.)

I wonder how Trump will fare. Nixon, of course, was not erased from history but he certainly didn’t get commemorative stamps, just a bloated biopic. Trump seems unfilmable as even while he’s happening, he remains unimaginable. And there’s no inner life there to explore. Oliver Stone admitted he had to make his fictional Nixon gifted with more self-awareness than the real guy (as when he compares himself ruefully to Kennedy).

Back to SLEEPER: I had to look up a reference right before this one. It’s explained that our civilisation was largely wiped out by a war, when “a man called Albert Shanker got ahold of a nuclear warhead.” I had no idea who that was and probably audiences at the time outside the US didn’t either, but Shanker was president of the United Federation of Teachers. Which I find very funny, even without looking deeper into his character to discover what it was that made Allen feel he couldn’t be trusted with a nuke.

What do I do with this?

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2020 by dcairns

So I watched THE GAZEBO, a George Marshall movie based on an Alec & Myra Coppel play I saw performed by an am-dram group as a kid. I remember enjoying the play but not as much as the same company’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I feel that Marshall’s very good at farce, having worked with Laurel & Hardy and made a funny film called MURDER, HE SAYS with Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker that’s very skillful.

Alas, this movie wrecks all the careful construction of the play by opening it out, and also pulls some nonsensical writing to make the hero more sympathetic, a wasted effort in my book because he’s Glenn Ford. Who can act, and be believable as the blackmailed writer, but can’t make me like him.

It did seem like a problem early on that Ford is paying out his earnings and presumably those his spouse, a Broadway star played by Debbie Reynolds, to a blackmailer to cover up what sounds like a dalliance with a secretary. Doesn’t make you like the guy AT ALL. This emerges when he tells a hypothetical story to his pal Carl Reiner (playing it straight, nicely), trying to make it sound like this didn’t happen to HIM. But then it turns out it DIDN’T happen to him, and the blackmailer actually has nude pictures of Reynolds, which he’s threatening to sell to a scandal sheet.

Surprisingly, the movie actually lets us SEE the pics, or nearly.

So, they’ve wasted our time and made us vaguely dislike Ford, and are now trying to claw back some sympathy. All in all, there’s little fun to be had here.

But original co-author Coppel is best-known for doing some work on VERTIGO, and he also penned six Hitchcock teleplays. One of the nicer conceits is another hypothetical: Ford’s character, who, like Coppel, writes for TV, speaks to Hitch on the phone, spinning a yarn about a man who’s being blackmailed and asking the master of suspense for advice on how to fictionally dispose of the blackmailer. Which he intends to use in real life. (Hitch is never actually seen or heard, alas, we only get Ford’s end of the call.) Hitch’s advice is that the tiny shovel from a fireside companion set can be used to bury a body.

What puzzles me is that at the very time I was watching this film, Fiona watched The Forms of Things Unknown, an Outer Limits episode which Chris Schneider guest-blogged about here, and remarked on the comedy of Vera Miles having to bury a corpse using the shovel from a companion set. And at the very same time, I was reading pulp thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, in which the dopey protagonist, plotting to clear an innocent man of a murder he was personally mixed up in, tells the story to a film director, disguising it as a script he’s writing, in hopes of getting advice.

Hitch may the shovel advice for real to Coppel for The Gazebo and also to his other collaborator Joseph Stefano, who scripted PSYCHO and then The Outer Limits… But none of that explains the link to Knight’s 1937 novel, nor why all three things fell into my life at the same time.

There is apparently a web of synchronicity tangled around an indifferent 1959 stage adaptation called THE GAZEBO. But so what? WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS?