Archive for the FILM Category

Half Fare

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2017 by dcairns

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN screened at Filmhouse as a friend’s birthday treat — thanks to David Watson for laying it on.

The film is a very familiar TV treat in the UK, but as far as I could remember I’d never actually seen the whole thing. I knew who was in it, knew there was a landslide with flannel petticoats, and a father coming back at a railway station. As it unfolded I had no idea what was going to happen yet. I’d somehow avoided seeing it, despite being a huge fan of Edith Nesbit, author, and Jenny Agutter, star.

The film is the real triumph of Bryan Forbes’ spell running EMI — a rare case of a filmmaker being in charge of a film production outlet. And I could see him being sympathetic to Lionel Jeffries, a fellow actor, coming to him with his dream project.

What with the low budget and Jeffries’ inexperience as screenwriter and director, the film often has an endearingly amateur quality. Night scenes are overlit, crew shadows glimpsed, and any time an extra is heard muttering, it’s with the distinctive timbre of the film’s director (a nice Wellesian flaw to have). Jeffries’ visual approach varies between nice ideas he sometimes pulls off, and simply struggling to get an acceptable shot in a cramped location (I’ve been there, Lionel). I think his editor is letting him down quite a bit, so when he makes a mistake it isn’t tackled, and when he gets something good going, not enough is made of it.

But the film thrives on its charm. Most of Nesbit’s children’s books have a fairly episodic, stop-start pace, and this is no exception, but the mystery/drama of the father’s absence gives it a nice suspense motor to keep it going, and the “kids” are great. Master Gary Warren, a small-statured 16, is very natural as Peter. Miss Sally Thomsett, 20, is toothsome and surprisingly convincing as the much younger Phyllis, “who means well,” though she does bounce around rather a lot when she runs. And Miss Jenny Agutter, that axiom of cinema, in a rare non-nude role brings just the right dreaminess to Bobbie, who seems imbued with a kind of telepathy, the only real magic in a story which keeps hinting at fairy tales bleeding through into reality.

The men, led by the divine Cribbins, are all cast from the Funny Uncle school of Performing Arts, of which Lionel Jeffries was himself honorary chairman. I guess with this and, ahem, FRENZY, Cribbins’ film career was on the up, just as the British film industry disintegrated.

Of Jeffries’ later works, THE WATER BABIES and WOMBLING FREE are disappointments, I fear. THE AMAZING MR. BLUNDEN is rather nice, and I’ve yet to see the intriguing BAXTER!

One reason THE RAILWAY CHILDREN works as well as it does may be that Jeffries lacked the confidence to mess about too much with the book, so it survives intact with all its episodic looseness and queer touches of mysticism, which might have been smoothed out to its detriment by a more ambitious filmmaker soaked in the professional ways of doing things. And also, I feel the film’s Edwardian sentimentality and melancholy is completely genuine, and part of its maker’s personality. I saw Jeffries interviewed on telly once, and he pointed at a very nice self-portrait he’d painted, and said that his tiny grandchild had looked at it and said, “That’s grandpa. He’s a broken man.” And Jeffries, choking up a touch, in his gruff, bluff Edwardian way, said that this was an example of the extraordinary acuity of children. And I remember thinking, wow.

The Invisibles

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 24, 2017 by dcairns

If you set out to make a film called THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, naturally you will end up with a lot of images of an empty set. Like this one.

Or these.

Abandoned movies. Lifeless sets, like Fritz Lang’s felicitous rooms, waiting for the events needed to bring them to narrative awakening.

HARVEY the pookah proves similarly camera-shy in this picture. And how are you today, Mr. Wilson?

From an invisible rabbit it’s a short jump to an invisible man and Abbot —

The comics are off arguing somewhere, while Vincent Price poses nude on the rug, secure in the fact that he cannot be photographed in his present condition. The Hays Office would never stand for it.

A friend only just worked out which was Abbot and which Costello. I sympathise — as a child it was obvious to me that “Bud Abbot” was a short fat guy’s name.

 

The Shakespeare Sunday Intertitle: You cataracts and hurricanoes!

Posted in FILM, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2017 by dcairns

Last week’s intertitle from an Italian KING LEAR of 1910 was in English, so it makes just as much sense that this week’s, from 1909 American adaptation of the same play, is in German.

An interesting contrast, in other ways: while the Italians enacted their arm-waving al fresco, the American film is wholly studio-bound. Though even shorter than the Italian abridgement, it packs in more of the plot, so we get Gloucester and his sons in their subplot, complete with sleight-of-hand blinding. And this one rightly considers the storm a key set-piece, something you can’t just leave out and replace with your lead actor talking to  a rock. They break out the special effects kit to give us interior rain and lightning-bolts. In this case, the SFX equipment seems to consist of a wire brush to produce multiple diagonal scratches on the negative (rain) and a scalpel to etch in little S.S. style symbols (lightning). The backdrop also lights up from behind, and the FX “team” seems to change their style of thunderbolt as the film goes on. The top image shows a long, thin fellow zapping in from top right, whereas the frame-grab below has a chubby little fellow aiming right at Lear’s head (well, he did ask for it).

Oddly, the interior filming makes this one seem a lot less sophisticated than last week’s. Even the beards are inferior. Maybe it’s just that transferring a play to scenic settings feels more “cinematic” than doing it on cheap sets? If so, that’s really just an illusion.

The megalithic backdrops put me in mind of the Granada TV version with Olivier, whose Stonehenge chic look always seemed rather kitsch. I slightly prefer the Elizabethan approach of Jonathan Miller’s rival BBC production, but both approaches unavoidably raise questions, since Shakespeare is never consistent about period (bad Shakespeare!). Maybe the best way to build a world for Lear would be a mix-and-match design.

William V. Ranous stars and co-directs with J. Stuart Blackton. The IMDb credits are wondrously woolly, with two Gonerils and two Regans credited and one woman playing both. Thomas H. Ince and Maurice Costello are supposed to be in it too, but we don’t know what as.

Google translates:

Because Gloster helped the King Lear, his eyes were cut off and he was driven away.