Archive for the literature Category

20,000 Leagues of Their Own

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2021 by dcairns

Inspired by the Karel Zeman documentary we didn’t watch a Zeman film but instead looked at Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. First time I’ve made it through the thing, more or less, without drifting off. And yet, it’s not THAT boring.

It’s an impressive technical feat — everything they need to do, they pull off, and Bob Mattey’ giant squid is a wow. No wonder they brought him out of retirement to do Bruce the shark in JAWS. Quick! What was Richard Fleischer’s lawyer’s name? If we knew that, we would know what the squid should be called.

Melvin? Ken? Diablo?

Jules Verne’s episodic, meandering novel has given the adaptors some trouble — scenarist Earl Felton had written a couple of LONE WOLF movies (yay!) and a few small-scale works for Richard Fleischer, including the fantastic THE NARROW MARGIN, and suddenly he’s charged with penning this undersea epic which never had much of a plot. Once the protagonists are taken prisoner by Captain Nemo (James Mason) there’s nothing to do except wander around the magnificent Victorian sub, and go for the occasional jaunt. It all looks great but there’s no dramatic ticking clock to say anything in particular needs doing.

It’s interesting that Nemo is an ambiguous character and the fellow most sympathetic to him, Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas) is also most sympathetic to us. No strong decision seems to have been taken as to who Peter Lorre is playing, so the film’s best actor is somewhat rudderless, although as Fiona pointed out it’s kind of nice to see him playing somebody basically nice. And then there’s Ned Land, whaler and troilist, an appalling lout-hero, ably personated by Kirk Douglas, giving it both knees as usual. This seems to connect somehow to the Harryhausen/Juran FIRST MEN IN THE MOON — both feature delightful Victorian scifi vehicles (see also Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE) and thuggish heroes contrasted with appealing but powerless intellectuals. The Harryhausen movie actually made this WORK, though. (And this almost brings us back to Zeman, since his BARON PRASIL begins with a modern cosmonaut meeting Munchausen on the moon, much like FIRST MEN’s NASA opening, drafted by Nigel Kneale.)

THE BLACK HOLE, it’s been pointed out, is Disney’s unofficial remake of LEAGUES — Maximilian Schell even borrows James Mason’s beard (well, he had no further use for it) — to the extent of stealing the maelstrom from Verne, which doesn’t appear in the movie, and putting it front and centre and calling it a black hole. Where LEAGUES is meandering, though, HOLE is violently incoherent, though it does have an insane psychedelic/religiose ending which elevates it to the category of something or other that happened.

This must surely have been storyboarded to within an inch of its life but, curiously enough, Fleischer’s compositional genius isn’t much in evidence. I guess it’s his first Scope film.

Asides from the actors named above, the movie has one other favourite figure, Percy Helton, who turns up at the start as a salty sea-dog, looking less grotesque than usual in a beard of his own. He should’ve kept it, or vice versa. It’s one of those no-moustache Irish jobs, which usually make people look worse (Lincoln pulled it off, sorta), but dear Perc has the kind of face you can’t disimprove upon, so he ends up looking quite cute — from goblin to garden gnome.

Sam Peckinpah, Invisible Mosquito

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on February 20, 2021 by dcairns
The Ghost of a Flea c.1819-20 William Blake 1757-1827 Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05889

In 1989 I was staying in the Sands Motel, researching Sam’s life and interviewing people, including Katy Haber, Sam’s mistress and right arm on several pictures. One night I was lying in bed, exhausted, trying to read. A mosquito came by my face. I could hear it, but I could not see it. I could not get rid of that little pest—it wasn’t there, but it was there! I kept thinking, “Am I nuts? Am I drunk?” It wasn’t the latter for sure—not a drop in days.

I called Katy. I said, “Katy, there’s a goddamned mosquito right in my face, right in my ear, but I can’t see it.”

She said, “It’s that son of a bitch Sam. He does that a lot.”

I took her at her word and said, “Sam, you get out of this room right now.”

And it was gone. That was the last semi-mystical experience I had with Sam Peckinpah—and he’d been dead for about five years.

From Goin’ Crazy with Sam Peckinpah and All Our Friends. Told you it was good! I’m gonna post some more of the mystical stuff because it’s all wonderfully weird and funny. Lynchian, rather than Peckinpahesque. With a touch of BARTON FINK, I guess.

The image is William Blake’s The Ghost of a Flea, something Blake saw, though his friends couldn’t.

Swink

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on February 18, 2021 by dcairns

Hal Ashby, in Directors in Action (a 1973 collection of pieces from Action, the Directors Guild of America’s official magazine) tells of the pep talk he got from William Wyler’s editor, Robert Swink, when he was starting as a junior cutter:

“Once the film is in hand, forget about the script, throw away all of the so-called rules, and don’t try to second-guess the director. Just look at the film and let it guide you. It will turn you on all by itself, and you’ll have more ideas on how to cut it than you ever dreamed possible. And use your instincts! Don’t be afraid of them! Rely on them! After all, with the exception of a little knowledge, instincts are all we’ve got. Also, don’t be afraid of the film. You can cut it together 26 different ways, and if none of those works, you can always put it back into daily form, and start over.”

Swink would have been forty years old and the movie would have been THE BIG COUNTRY in 1958, so the language here is undoubtedly Ashby’s hippy-inflected speech. And some of the editorial philosophy may likewise be Ashby’s — but Swink cut for both William Wyler — minimal coverage but an insane number of takes — and George Stevens — multiple shot sizes from every conceivable direction — and he cut inventively and boldly, so I do believe a lot of what Ashby is passing on came from him. It’s good advice, whoever came up with it.