Archive for February, 2022

Page Seventeen III: The Return of the King

Posted in FILM on February 28, 2022 by dcairns

Was it possible, Jeremy asked himself, that such an object existed? It was certainly not probable. The Beverly Pantheon lacked all verisimilitude, was something entirely beyond his powers to invent. The fact that the idea of it was now in his mind proved, therefore, that he must really have seen it. He shut his eyes against the landscape and recalled to his memory the details of that incredible reality. The external architecture, modelled on that of Boecklin’s ‘Toteninsel’. The circular vestibule. The replica of Rodin’s ‘Le Baiser,’ illuminated by concealed pink floodlights. With its flights of black marble stairs. The seven-story columbarium, the endless galleries, its tiers on tiers of slab-sealed tombs. The bronze and silver urns of the cremated, like athletic trophies. The stained glass windows after Burne-Jones. The texts inscribed on marble scrolls. The Perpetual Wurlitzer crooning on every floor. The sculpture…

I knew nothing of these goings-on when Sam Yudenow employed me as manager of the Fowler’s End Pantheon.

“Sometimes men digging there unearth bodies of mammoths in a perfect state of preservation, fresh enough to eat after a hundred centuries in the everlasting refrigerator of the frost.”

Along the way I met another young man, exactly my age, with exactly the same love, if not to say lust. For those prehistoric creatures paced his days, and stirred his nights. The young man’s name was Ray Harryhausen. He was building, and animating with stop-motion 8 mm film, a family of dinosaurs, in his backyard garage. I visited the family often, handled the beasts, talked for hours, many nights in many years, with my friend, and we agreed: he was to grow up and birth dinosaurs, I was to grow up and dialogue them. And it came to pass.

Those animals certainly can travel!

‘Are there many antelope here too?’ I asked.

From then on, the author’s typewriter keys invariably fuse in a lump of hot metal and it’s all over but the shouting of the culprit and “Look, men: one hundred breezy photos!” Back in his stash, his roscoe safely within reach, Dan Turner lays his weary noggin on a pillow, resting up for the November issue. And unless you’re going to need me for something this afternoon, I intend to do the same. I’m bushed.

You have been reading seven paragraphs from seven of the page seventeens contained in some books I have about me.

After Many a Summer by Aldous Huxley; Fowler’s End by Gerald Kersh; Frozen Beauty, from Nightshades and Damnations by Gerald Kersh; Introduction to Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury; Rhinoceros, from Rhinoceros, The Chairs, The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco; The Bridge in the Jungle by B. Traven; Somewhere a Roscoe…. from The Most of S.J. Perelman by S.J. Perelman.

The Sunday Intertitle: Placeholder

Posted in FILM with tags , , on February 27, 2022 by dcairns

From Maurice Tourneur’s ALIAS, JIMMY VALENTINE, a 1915 feature so sophisticated that its director was able to crib from it in a 1935 Pathe-Natan film he made, JUSTIN DE MARSEILLES.

More on it soon, hopefully. Didn’t feel like writing much today, I have a bunch of marking to do (applicants to my course — my least favourite kind of work, crushing young dreams — although not all get crushed, at least not by me).


Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2022 by dcairns
Some of these insert shots have an Argentoesque intensity

TV director William Sterling’s one feature film, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1972) assembles lots of great people and looks nice. It’s not my idea of wonderland, though.

As you can see, the copy I scraped up isn’t very good, so I may not be doing the film justice. It’s a lot better than most adaptations — fairly true to the text. It doesn’t become an incoherent mishmash of Wonderland and Looking Glass, as so many do. But being true to the story and characters isn’t the same as capturing the spirit. On the other hand, you can legitimately aim to capture a DIFFERENT spirit. I’m not sure if that’s what happens here.

I remember some piece that discussed the film, and spoke very critically of Michael Jayston’s visible panty line. He plays Charles Dodgson, and the film begins with a boat outing with the Liddell sisters, but does NOT have these characters reappear in Wonderland, disguised, as Lewis Carroll does: he, the stammering Do-do-dodgson, becomes the Dodo. But Jayston doesn’t stutter, he speaks beautifully. Seductively, in fact. He also neglects historical accuracy in his choice of Y-fronts, which show through his white trousers in a way sure to inspire disapproval in a Von Stroheim undie perfectionist.

Fiona Fullerton, a perky Alice, has been told to smile a lot, and does. Her perplexing adventures seem to amuse her greatly. This strikes me as wrong, but given what she’s been asked to do, she does it charmingly, though she’s too old. But if the film is about anything, which isn’t certain, it may be about coming of age — indeed, the soft-focus boat ride looks very much like what I imagine a David Hamilton adolescent smut film must be like (haven’t seen one).

Wonderland is all sets. Quite big ones, but things still get to seem a little airless. The transition occurs when the dream begins, rather than when Alice goes done the rabbit hole, which is a distortion, but an acceptable one. The budget allows for some very interesting visuals. A well decorated rabbithole, a Dali-meets-Geiger sky, an infinite corridor for the key business.

One blunder is carried over directly from the Paramount version: there’s a terrific cast, and most of them are rendered unrecognisable under Stuart Freeborn’s makeups. As usual, the humanoid characters come off best in such circumstances: this may be the only adaptation of the book where the most amusing character is the Duchess’s cook, played in a maelstrom of fury by Patsy Rowlands. Robert Helpmann is a perfect Mad Hatter (though I don’t understand why Kenneth Williams never did it). Peter Bull is a pretty unbeatable Duchess, Flora Robson slightly out of her element as the Queen of Hearts, Dennis Price very much IN his as the King (he does nothing but recite Lewis Carroll in the same year’s PULP). Tiny playing card parts are stuffed with familiar faces like Rodney Bewes, Dennis Waterman, Ray Brooks and Richard Warwick.

Smothered under prosthetics, Peter Sellers still does well as the March Hare, Dudley Moore copes as the Dormouse, Spike Milligan capers and goons as the Griffin, but it’s all schtick and no character. The only bit of Michael Hordern you can see in his Mock Turtle outfit is his lower face, but the rest of the makeup gives him some kind of jowl-lift, so even that part doesn’t look like it’s his. Michael Crawford’s stylish White Rabbit ears and whiskers allow him to do his thing relatively unimpeded (as with Sellers, it’s all in the eyes and voice) but Roy Kinnear has lost most of the Cheshire Cat’s lines AND business, and barely registers, an astonishing fate for such a great scene-stealer. Ralph Richardson has quite wisely refused to don a caterpillar’s head, and can be seen and enjoyed.

There are fewer laughs, I’d say, than in Jonathan Miller’s BBC version, which only had a few. Miller, however, had decided that this was a Victorian child’s dream, and his choices were mainly consistent with that. I’m just not sure what Sterling has decided on. A panto, perhaps. We have songs by John Barry with lyrics by Stanley Black, which edge out many of Carroll’s own superior words. Barry has gone fully into soupy strings mode, with a bit of the pizzicato guff he did in the early sixties. His main theme is almost identical to the one he foist onto ROBIN AND MARIAN.

Not as alienating as TALES OF BEATRIX POTTER, another children’s film from this period (it looks amazing but positively declines to deliver any tales, or any entertainment at all), it still feels like it would have baffled me as a kid. The Disney version made me feel stoned, as I recall, though I didn’t know what that was. I may have made some suggestions in the past for how the books should be treated, but if I did I’ve forgotten, so here goes —

Get good actors, and I don’t know that they have to be comedians. Give them some signifiers — the White Rabbit can have ears, for instance. Otherwise, dress them like the Tenniel illustrations and leave their faces on display and let them act. I hate hate hate the Tim Burton version but the idea of using CG to turn actors into live-action cartoons (giving Bonham-Carter a huge(r) head) was decent.

I would tend to favour locations over sets, even though Michael Stringer’s were very good here.

I think, controversially I know, that Alice should be a child. Get one who can act (which Miller inexplicably failed to do).

I think it should be a bit like Welles’ THE TRIAL, really, just slightly funnier, slightly less sinister. But A BIT sinister. (And the Welles is already pretty funny, funnier than this anyway).

When I read the book I was struck by how funny it was, which the films rarely seemed to be. I wonder if Richard Lester would have wanted to do this: it has eleven of his actors and numerous crew. And there’s the Goons connection. Carroll isn’t as rambunctious as The Goon Show, but he has his moments. It’s a funny thing: the book has almost never been filmed by a comedy specialist.