Archive for the FILM Category

Cuddly

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2015 by dcairns

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In THE FRENCH CONNECTION II, Gene Hackman, pursuing Fernando Rey during a raid on his heroin lab, passes an inexplicable fluffy pooch, lolloping gaily in the opposite direction. A nod to Bunuel? Or does every heroin lab have a mascot?

While in THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, a painfully young Anthony Hopkins tucks his son into bed, ignoring a cuddly lion with Anthony Hopkins eyes.

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Tossing a coin, I think I’ll now proceed to deal with THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, a John Le Carre adaptation which sees John Box, David Lean’s designer, stepping up to produce, and Frank Pierson, prolific screenwriter, steps into the director’s chair. He does pretty well, I think — he shoots proper shots, with ideas behind them, not just coverage. Some of the cutting is fantastic, inventive and unusual in its rhythms and transitions. Some of it just doesn’t work. When we cut from one end of a room to another, it’s a shock to hear Ralph Richardson’s voice continue, because it looks like a scene change.

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Christopher Jones shares the spotlight with Hopkins. An up-and-coming prettyboy, he did a great James Dean impersonation in WILD IN THE STREETS — the muscles around his mouth pout and pucker and strain in exactly the configurations of Dean’s face, so it was biology as artistic destiny. Here, he’s dubbed because he couldn’t do a Polish accent, but David Lean didn’t realize that when he grabbed him for RYAN’S DAUGHTER. Unsuitably cast as a British officer, dubbed again, and straitjacketed by Lean’s meticulous direction, Jones seems to disappear from the screen even while he’s on it. An empty outline, a shadow floodlit out of existence, the sound of one hand failing to clap. Lean evidently hadn’t heard Nick Ray’s dictum: Don’t Fuck With A Natural. All Jones’s methody tricks added up to was a compulsion to muck about onscreen, to do what he felt like in the moment. Lean sat on his chest and wouldn’t let him have fun, so all his talent froze up and died.

Despite the dubbing, he’s alive in this one, playful and unpredictable. An exciting contrast with the Brits, who are all technique on the surface (but, of course, deeply eccentric in their essence — I very badly wanted to see Richardson to interact with Jones). Put together with Susan George, another untutored misbehaver, Jones turns sex panther (the two had a fling, brutally nullified when she brought over a toothbrush — “No way, baby,”). Her chubby face is out of control. It’s amazing seeing onset doc footage of her making STRAW DOGS, because the charismatic, cute girl you see is nowhere to be found in the sullen, dead-eyed performance Peckinpah captured. Here, she’s antic, a rough baby.

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Where the movie goes wrong is East Germany — once Jones is out on his own (in Cybulski shades) with no crisp Brits to bounce off, things go to pot. Le Carre MAY have been responsible for the wan guff of romance, gasped into the plot without a whiff of social reality — on an off-day, he can do twee — but Pierson should have stomped on it. The end creds say “Filmed at Shepperton Studios and on location in Europe” and those last bits feel as vague as that makes it sound, not helped by rendering dialogue in English which ought to be in German. Wally Stott parples away with his East German truck jazz as Jones and a leaden Pia Dagermark listlessly enjoy their idyll, overseen by a broken-toothed child who seems to squat on the movie’s chest, paralysing it like the imp in Fuselli’s Nightmare.

The wrap-up is satisfying, though it hits the button marked “message” rather too hard. The darkly ironic final twist helps take the curse off it.

The Sunday Intertitle: Missing Bologna

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2015 by dcairns

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I have to get organized and raise some cash so I can go to Bologna next year. Cinema Ritrovato is an annual event and I need to be present at it annually. At least.

This year, there was no A HARD DAY’S NIGHT to lure me — that seemed an unmissable way of closing the book on my Richard Lester piece, PICTUREWISE. But there are a lot of things on which are pretty unrepeatable. Today, on Facebook, accompanist Neil Brand posted that RAPSODICA SATANICA, which has had its original score by Mascagni carefully reconstructed by Timothy Brock, only works with this music. Above is a fab intertitle plucked from my un-scored disc. And here is an image —

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AAARGH! It’s another of those creepy portraits that come to life! I love/hate those things. Here, the use of tinting is fantastic — it both accentuates and erases the difference between the three-dimensional, physical world and the flat world of the portrait. See also THIS.

They are also showing KISS ME KATE in 3D — there’s some hope that such an event will be repeated nearer me, but you never know. The only place likely to screen it would be Filmhouse, which bought expensive 3D apparatus and then decided “Our audience doesn’t like 3D.” Which is true for a lot of people who go to Filmhouse, I guess, particularly the retirees. But they have never shown PINA and CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3D, so do they really know?

Meredith Brody informs me that Renato Castellani is one of the great discoveries this year. I can do a bit of armchair discovering of his oeuvre, I guess.

I would certainly be checking out some of the rare Leo McCareys.

Have I ever seen ANY Jacques Tourneur on the big screen? GREAT DAY IN THE MORNING would be a wonderful start.

At long last — Julien Duvivier’s submerged cinema starts to resurface. During the Great Duvivier Giveaway I allowed more than a hundred readers to experience LA FIN DU JOUR in a scrappy off-air recording from the eighties. Now it can be seen projected in pristine-o-scope. And they say there’s no such thing as progress.

Quite a few filmmakers of particular importance to Shadowplay are featured — Duvivier, Anthony Mann, Joseph Losey. MON GOSSE DE PERE is a 1931 film from Pathe-Natan — I own a fuzzy off-air recording, but it’s unsubtitled so I haven’t explored it in any depth.

Buster Keaton! SHERLOCK JNR and ONE WEEK on the vast open-air screen of the Piazza Maggiore!

Oddly enough, I feel OK about missing 2001 because I don’t know that the occasional distractions of police sirens and barking dogs you hear in the open-air environment would enhance Kubrick’s vision. They don’t seem to matter in silents or in chatty films.

There’s a surprise movie! Surprise movies often don’t work — Edinburgh abandoned the practice as the majority of punters always seemed discontented with what they got. I think typically the film would be a last-minute offering grabbed opportunistically after the programme went to press. But since EVERYTHING IS AWESOME IN BOLOGNA, and all the films are rediscoveries, restorations and possible classics deserving further study, it can be guaranteed that whatever the surprise was, it was a good ‘un.

Now I’m starting to feel melancholic. Apart from anything else, Bologna is a fantastic PLACE…

Still, next year I think I can get some cash from my place of work under the heading of “research”. So that will be just ~

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John Gilling Presents

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on July 4, 2015 by dcairns

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A curiosity — the intro to John Gilling’s 1948 directorial debut, a 38-minute quickie called ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, states that it is the first of a series, a sort of “John Gilling Presents,” themed around the concept of “psychic mysteries” — but Gilling made no further short films of this kind. His next, the following year, is an hour long (a feature!) and comes from a different company, so evidently the idea didn’t catch on.

Obviously, it’s not a true story at all, just some baloney Gilling has made up. A gangster meets the ghost of a previous victim. Or is she? Or isn’t she? Or are he?

All the early Gilling movies are crime thrillers, aspiring to be hardboiled, but he was already flirting with the horror genre he’s remembered for, scripting THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART, a Burke-and-Hare film a clef starring Tod Slaughter. So, unlike a lot of Hammer’s employees, I think he had a genuine interest in the macabre. Odd bursts of creativity erupt amid lifeless stretches throughout his career.

In ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, nobody escapes from the titular asylum for the criminally insane, or not onscreen anyway. Isn’t it cheating to name your film after something that’s pure backstory? The film’s psycho is played by a surprise choice, the usually sweet-natured comedy actor John Le Mesurier, famous in the UK for his role in Dad’s Army as a superannuated sergeant in the Home Guard. He was in gazillions of films, usually in small, ineffectual, bureaucratic roles, a nervous fusspot. He plays a very queer king courtier in JABBERWOCKY.

As a cockney gangster with mental health issues, he’s surprisingly effective!

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