Archive for the Dance Category

The Sunday Intertitle: DAVID!

Posted in Comics, Dance, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2018 by dcairns

“The only trouble with this show is they keep shouting “DAVID!” says Fiona.

“Well, how do you think *I* feel?” I ask. “I even get it in intertitle form.”

The show is Legion, which is a Marvel thing, and it’s very stylish indeed. Occasionally I feel too much of the style comes from 2001 and CLOCKWORK ORANGE (plus that ever-popular STRANGELOVE-ADDAMS FAMILY font), but there’s a wide ranger of influences for the snazzy visuals. It’ a superhero show, nominally, but very psychedlic and tonally skewed, so that when a good guy and bad guy meet, they’re more likely to have a dance-off than to punch each other through walls.

This show, brought to the screen by Noah Hawley of Fargo, could be paired with the very different Jessica Jones to suggest that superheroes could become the new westerns, a genre with some constraints, maybe, but allowing filmmakers to tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of modes. The movie versions don’t have that variety, I’m afraid: they’re basically all about good guys saving the world. Apart from maybe LOGAN?

Jessica Jones varies the formula by keeping things small-scale and making the heroine’s powers an afterthought. The powers of the opponents have more dramatic weight, but work as metaphors and dramatic intensifiers: a manipulative abuser who can do mind-control is still an abuser, a mother with anger issues and super-strength is still a mother with anger issues.

 

Legion is also smaller-scale than the movie versions, though more cosmic. It has astral plane stuff like DOCTOR STRANGE but makes this much more eerie and weird, the way the old comics could by actually changing the media used (those photo-collage splash pages blew my little mind as a kid: Legion comes close to that effect with its bizarro musical numbers). Dan Stevens (as the intertitular David everyone’s always shouting for) and Rachel Keller (as Syd Barrett [!]) ground the show in believable emotions as two damaged people whose psychic abilities blur into their mental issues.

Legion has a measure of phildickian “What is reality?” stuff and lots of psychic powers and goofiness: it seems influenced by Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles far more than the style of original author Chris Claremont (never liked his stuff), it has fantastic production design and cinematography, and amazing actors. Too many to mention. But I’m very keen on Hamish Linklater’s inappropriate smiles, which can be ironic, chilling or heartbreaking. Plus he plays a villain who turns out to be gay and a loving partner and father, and then a hero.

And then there’s Aubrey Plaza, with her tics and smutty grins and eyeballs the size of Phobos.

And Jonathan Demme alumni Bill Irwin (Ham Gravy in Altman’s POPEYE).

We’re near the end of season 2 in our viewing and there’s a serious lull of interest going on right now — but I think things are about to kick in big-time. I trust the creators. Will probably be able to confirm this in the comments section later.

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The Many Dogs of Ann Miller

Posted in Comics, Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by dcairns

One of the purposes of EASTER PARADE is to dazzle us with design and colours as well as music and dance. Also, dogs.

Ann Miller plays a shallow showbiz star, first encountered coddling this cute little dach-cessory.

But, a few scenes later, we see her on the titular parade, for which she has selected canine companions more suited to her new outfit. Looks like a couple of silken windhounds to me, but heaven knows I’m no expert. The good thing about black and white dogs is they go with any outfit. Though Ann’s furry sleeves and the light-and-dark contrast of her skirt and jacket suggest an attempt to coordinate with her canines.

There’s a disappointingly dogless scene with Ann and Peter Lawford in a swank eatery where I guess there must be a no-pooch rule, but for her next appearance Ann sports her most ridiculous doggie yet, a chic chihuahua, cushioned comfortably on her muff.

He puts me in mind of a Dick Tracy wrist communicator, so that Ann might raise him to her lips and speak with HQ: “Send more dogs!” She knows nothing is calculated to impress Fred, leader of THE DOBERMANN GANG, than an ever-replenished supply of random hounds.

We are not meant to visualise a smelly back room in Ann’s elegant apartments where she keeps all these dogs. The suspicion must be that they are simply worn once and discarded, perhaps donated to the needy, or perhaps, like Burberry, she destroys them in order to prevent cheapening of the brand. In this way, the constant alternation of housepets quietly characterises Miller’s character not as a warm animal lover, but as a ruthless Cruella DeVille type. Boo! Hiss!

Still, she can dance. And, with subtle, mesmeric hand movements, she seems to draw in and push back Robert Alton’s camera (weirdly, choreographer Charles Walters directed the film but had another choreographer to direct the musical numbers). Fiona remarks, “I’m just beginning to realise what factories the old studios were!”

The Home Film Festival

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2018 by dcairns

It was rainy last Sunday so I suggested we have our own film festival at home. Try it!

An eclectic program, decided at random. First I watched THE ORE RAIDERS, and blogged about it, then I popped on THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974), which always looked like awful tommyrot when on TV, but it’s Don Siegel therefore worth a try.Reader, THE BLACK WINDMILL is indeed awful tommyrot, but with impressive credits. TV pan-and-scan showings, which I recall seeing bits of, ruined it utterly — the pleasure is all in Siegel’s framing and blocking. Ousama Rawi, the former Mr. Rita Tushingham, shot it, beautifully — there’s some particularly nice anamorphic city lights. Antony Gibbs, of PETULIA and PERFORMANCE, cut it, less successfully than one might have hoped, though the neatest bit is a long take from a locked-off position as bad guys frame the hero with a nudie photo staged in his own bedroom. Roy Budd, of GET CARTER, provides a GET CARTER type score, with added tabla drums. Veteran costume designer Anthony Mendleson makes his leading man look ridiculous. I think there’s a good argument for leading men dressing conservatively, as Cary Grant suggested. They don’t date, and anyway, why would a spy dress like THIS?I suppose, in a crisis, he could always turn sideways and hide behind his necktie.

A distinguished cast includes cast includes Harry Palmer, Dr. Crippen, Empress Alexandra, Elizabeth Bathory, Sheik Abu Tahir and Maya the shapeshifter from Space 1999.

   

Fiona only joined that one midway, then insisted on some Bette Davis so we ran JEZEBEL, which we hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve often felt that the Germans in Hollywood had more racial sensitivity than native-born filmmakers, but although the black characters here all get bits of characterisation, and Eddie Anderson underplays for once, the movie never misses a chance at a cheap joke. When Henry Fonda says he feels haunted, wrinkled retainer Lew Paton stammers, “H-haunted?” in terror of spooks.

Still, the soapy story compels, and Bette is playing a perverse, willful, stroppy filly much like herself. She adored Wyler’s disciplinarian approach, and dialled down her excesses. When she reacts to the news that Fonda has married, her face registers a dozen emotions and calculations at lightning speed, subtly enough that you can believe smiling Margaret Lindsay doesn’t notice them, and visibly enough that you can see Fonda does.

Also great work from Richard Cromwell and, shockingly, George Brent, whose sleepy approach to acting here becomes electrifying when he’s given something of real interest to play. His character is supposed to be a dynamic old-school swashbuckler, and by playing it with indifference he actually adds a convincing edge to it. This guy is so dangerous because he doesn’t advertise it.

The cunning use of POV shots I noted in THE ORE RAIDERS is present here, as Bette, embracing Fonda, makes particular note of the stick he’s left by the door. All her behaviour in the ensuing scene is an attempt to provoke him into using it on her, which he refrains from, much to her disappointment. Did I mention Bette’s character is a touch perverse?

Co-writer John Huston was drafted in to direct a duel scene, and in a film full of smart grace notes, delivers one of the neatest, as the duellists take ten paces, clear out of frame and two puffs of smoke issue in from the edges of the screen, rendering the battle an abstraction, its outcome a mystery.

We followed this with another, contrasting Bette movie, LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972), which I’ve tackled at greater length elsewhere. Let’s just say that, cast as a kind of monster-goddess, Bette again is playing a character remarkably like herself: indefatigable.

Short subject: PIE, PIE, BLACKBIRD with Nina Mae McKinney and the Nicholas Brothers when they were small. She does an adorable rasping trumpet honk thing with her voice, an orchestra plays inside a giant pie, and the Bros. dance so hard, everybody turns into a skeleton. Will, if anybody was going to cause that to happen, it would be them.

It’s very funny to me that the props man couldn’t find a child skeleton — there was, it would seem, little call for such items — so he’s removed the shin-bones of an adult to make it dance shorter. Incredible to think that young Harold performed all those moves without knees.

Then MIRAGE, based on regular Shadowplayer Daniel’s recent recommendation. Sixties Edward Dmytryk, when he’s supposed to be washed up, but there’s some interesting stuff afoot, not all of it pulling in the same direction, but still. Stars Atticus Finch, Felix Unger Oscar Madison, Anne Frank’s sister Margot, Willie Loman’s son Biff, Gaetano Proclo and Joe Patroni. Which is to say, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy are reunited after CHARADE, which was also scripted by Peter Stone, and Matthau and Jack Weston are together, prefiguring A NEW LEAF.

Stone’s script is witty as usual, perhaps too witty — there’s a good sense of Kafkaesque nightmare going on in the crazy amnesia/conspiracy plot, but you have Gregory Peck being all Gregory Peckory, stiff and bashful, and then making quips, and the sense of waking nightmare rather deserts one.

BUT —

Dmytryk, a former editor, has discovered direct cutting — he’s seen MARIENBAD, in fact — or maybe the previous year’s THE PAWNBROKER. As Peck thinks back on baffling recent events, or retrieves fragments of memory from his earlier, lost-time spell, we cut in hard to snippets of dialogue from earlier or brief flashes of action. Best of all is a subway scene where the sound of the train continues unabated over glimpses of Walter Abel falling out of a skyscraper. Then he cuts to a watermelon hitting the ground and bursting, something that’s only been mentioned earlier. It’s a non-diegetic watermelon, perhaps the first of its race.

It’s dazzling and disturbing and would still look pretty nifty in a modern film. What makes it sellable to the great public of 1964 is that the odd technique is tied directly to the plot gimmick. Anyway, it’s very nice indeed, and makes you realise how conservative most cutting still is. Given Dmytryk’s late-career wallowing in turgid airport novel stuff, I wish he’d enlivened his work with this kind of monkey business a lot more. For a guy who’d sold out, who had to shore up his sense of self-worth with spurious justifications, accomplishing a nice piece of work like this must have been some kind of relief.