Archive for the literature Category

The Pentecostal McIntertitle

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2017 by dcairns

Tartan intertitles never really caught on. Tartan intertitles that rhyme are basically a one-off, confined to the forty-one minutes and thirty-four seconds of THE LADY OF THE LAKE, adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem.

The opening shot is a spectacular vista of a loch, with a gentleman in period dress in the foreground. The gent turns out to be Percy Marmont, who was in Hitchcock’s RICH AND STRANGE and Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT and here looks about ready for Hitchcock’s COLD AND UNCOMFORTABLE. In attempting to make his way out of the foreground, he stumbles rather badly, and limps from view looking embarrassed and cross. That memorable phrase from Brownlow’s Cinema Europe doc, referring to another Brit epic, comes to mind — well, I can’t remember it exactly, but bits of it come to mind, and form something like the phrase, “a re-take was evidently considered altogether too ambitious.”

I stress, this is the leading man tripping over in the opening shot.

Percy Marmont gave his name to the Chateau Marmont, by the way. Indirectly, but still.

But the film improves a fair bit, seeming at least professional. The poetry is bloody awful, though. I found myself wondering why Scott has a giant monument on Edinburgh’s main street when his verse is so crappy. Then I did my due diligence on Project Gutenberg and established that the doggerel intertitles have nothing to do with Scott at all… except for those that do (above). Elsewhere, the language has been made less archaic, lines of text have been repurposed as dialogue, and the desired effect of terseness combined with windiness has been achieved with all the inelegance one could wish for.

I remember when Demi Moore appeared in THE SCARLET LETTER she got a lot of stick for saying that it was based on a book (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) nobody ever read nowadays. And the criticism was justified, mainly because who promotes their movie by saying it’s based on something unreadable and worthless? (She should have pointed out that the classic Lillian Gish movie took just as many liberties — some books offer cinematic possibilities without, in their fundamentals, being suited to faithful adaptation…) If the cast and crew had been forced to  read the book, which would have taken some of them just as long as filming it, they would have learned more, and we would have been spared seeing the film. But still, there are some important old literary works that nobody reads for pleasure. Carl Hiassen’s Striptease, for example…

I have read precisely one short story by Scott, which I found turgid. In fairness, he was a pretty early adopter of the novel form. His verse is a lot better than the chopped-up intertitular fragments here suggest, because it’s partly in the excess wordiness of his raptures over highland scenery that he gets his effects over. And the film just deletes all that in favour of photography.

Percy seems rather effete for his role as a bold Scottish hero. I don’t think Benita Hume was Scottish either, though maybe she was descended from David Hume?

LIFE IN A SCOTCH SITTING ROOM

Note the spare intertitles hung up here and there to cover cracks in the walls.

Also, the sheep gathered around the dining table for guests to sit on. Sheep are so plentiful in the highlands that furniture is rarely bothered with. These ovine dining chairs have the added advantage that, if your plate is emptied, you can simply carve off some mutton from under you and add it to your “tatties.” After a heavy meal, you might find yourself sitting on the floor.

The legs of the table are made from barber’s poles, a typical Scottish economy measure. “If they didnae want us to hae them, they shouldnae leave them oot in the street!”

 

Three Three Mens

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2017 by dcairns

To say nothing of the dog.

So, the first of my book fair purchases to be consumed was Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, which proved extremely rewarding. I love the film of JKJ’s THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK, and this has some of the same peculiarity. As with a lot of literary works one hasn’t read, perhaps especially comic novels, one forms a false impression of what to expect. Here, the slapstick, bickering, stupidity, falling-in-the-water stuff and the good-old-days Victorian atmosphere do make up aspects of the book, but there’s a lot of surprising material alongside it, and anyway the expected content isn’t quite how you expect it: the novel was a contemporary work, so the period detail, in a sense, isn’t; and the slapstick, being delivered by words, gains subtlety. None of the boating mishaps seem like they’d be particularly amusing to actually watch, it’s all in the telling.

And the film adaptations bear this out, dreadfully. I haven’t been able to see 1915’s HANGING A PICTURE, produced by and starring one Eric Williams, which adapts one episode of the book, nor the 1920 full adaptation, which seem interesting chiefly because they’re so close in period to the novel. As with Wodehouse, making a lot of effort to create a period look seems antithetical to the easy charm of the source. (I’m not certain if either of these films survive.)

So the 1933 film, directed by Graham Cutts, Hitchcock’s old bête noir, has a certain advantage. As the opening images unspooled — a phantom ride floating down a sun-dappled Thames — I thought, “Well, this is the right mood.” That lasted as long as the credits. In the spirit of the misbegotten JEEVES films starring Arthur Treacher, which turned Wodehouse’s super-brain into a bumbling duffer, Cutts’ film proceeds to get everything perfectly wrong.

The actors are sort of capable, but the decision has been made to make one of them the straight man hero type, always having the horse-laugh on his pals. Which isn’t like the book, but also isn’t an appealing dynamic. Jerome, democratically includes himself in most of the acts of silliness in the novel, and though he regards himself as less fatheaded than his pals, a lot of his humour is about reading between the lines, so that he can show that he’s capable of being just as foolish as his travelling companions, and also that they each have the same false sense of superiority. This is so much more wittily ironic than the movie’s approach.

The novel has no plot save its journey. The film tries so hard to have a plot, it forgets to have a journey. The hapless holidaymakers basically park their boat, get out, and have misadventures with a pretty girl, her bad-tempered uncle, the local constabulary, and the truculent locals. This all makes a liar out of the title. In fact, there isn’t much to recognise from the novel — a man sits in butter and has to have it scraped from the seat of his trousers, and there’s the bit where three fishermen claim credit for a big trout hung on a pub wall. And there’s a dog, but it’s the wrong breed, belongs to the wrong man, and is used for cuteness. The disreputable Montmorency of the book, a memorable literary dog, is nowhere to be found.

The language is interesting: George (Edmund Breon — never heard of him) says “You arse” and “stop arsing about.” When he and Harris (William Austin — nope) get on their faces, the charming leading lady (Iris March — I know, there shouldn’t BE a leading lady) says they look “like nigger minstrels.” The N word does appear in the book once, also, in one of those moments that makes you pause a bit.

Purely because it’s 1933, which nobody involved really deserves credit for, this terrible film feels a bit more “right” that Romulus Films’ 1956 version, directed by Ken Annikin. The choice of composer, John Addison, is the smartest thing about it. Let’s state the obvious: to film Three Men in a Boat, first choose your three men. With care.

So here we have Jimmy Edwards as Harris, which is the wrong man — George is the fattish one. But that doesn’t really matter, except — WHY CHANGE IT? But Edwards had his own handlebar moustache, and a sort of music-hall tang, and looks good in a blazer and straw boater. He’ll do.

David Tomlinson is cast as Jay, which again is the wrong person for him to play. He can play the silly ass just as well as Edwards, and might have made a good Harris. But he can’t suggest Jay’s soulfulness, he can’t suggest that this man might write this book. The film “solves” this by removing the book’s strangeness (the bits that mark it out as by the same author as The Passing of the Third Floor Back), its historical asides, its poetry. Everything that leavens the dicking around in boats, in fact.

And then, because it’s a Romulus production, and producer James Woolf was hopelessly in love with him, we have Laurence Harvey. Maybe the worst piece of casting in history. I can actually imagine Harvey as Jay, underplaying the soulful bit. But here he’s George, no longer fat, now an unreformable babe-hound (and the film supplies a roster of babes — Jill Ireland, Lisa Gastoni, Shirley Eaton and Adrienne Corri), and he overplays horribly, as he was wont to do when the material was unsuitable.

Chasing girls is very much not a theme of the book. Both these movies regard that as a problem to be solved. And so here’s Shirley Eaton stepping from a bath, offering a peekaboo glimpse of her sodden fleshings. You couldn’t go anywhere in Britain in the late 50s/early 60s without tripping over Shirley’s damp body stockings or her gilt breast-cones from GOLDFINGER. All of which gives hammy Laurence even more to get excited about.

So there’s a lot of shouting with these three (the book has a restful feel of “perspiring bluster recollected in tranquillity”), and a repeated tic of having them DESCRIBE whatever supposedly funny thing has just happened (“You’ve DROPPED it in the WATER!”) that certainly doesn’t help anything. And although this one reproduces several of the events of the novel, it misses the tone completely, and although unlike the 1933 film it DOES centre on a journey into the Heart of Lightness, Annikin pretty well forgets to drift downstream — that opening shot of the b&w movie is never evoked by his stodgy, static, Cinemascope shots.

(In fairness — the 1933 MEN survives only in a very jumpy, spliced print, while the 1956 one can be seen on Youtube but in a wretched pan-and-scan, which certainly can’t help.)

The best English-language adaptation (there’s a 1961 German transposition which sounds pretty bad) is certainly the 1975 BBC version, scripted by Tom Stoppard, directed by Stephen Frears, and starring Tim Curry (Jay), Michael Palin (Harris) and Stephen Moore (George). They should have chased up Vyvyan Stanshell, I feel, but this is a fine trio. Best of all, they’re all deadpan — Curry plays it like Brideshead Revisited, Palin plays it like Ripping Yarns — and he’s a marvellous actor for using the frame in comic ways, as scene in the Hampton Court Maze scene, staged properly as a flashback here. He’s also the best at falling over, and he makes sure to do this a lot.

One of the few laughs in the Annikin film is the pineapple tin bit, reproduced from the novel, but this limply rendered, based solely on the idea of three idiots without a tin opener trying to get at the sugary fruit with blunt instruments. JKJ gets FAR more comic value out of it than that ~

We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry — but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast.

There’s this odd pre-Lovecraftian sense of the uncanny in English comic writing — think of Bertie Wooster’s reaction to the cow-creamer.

And Stoppard goes still further, setting up the slapstick with a set of wonderfully precise tributes to the desirable qualities of tinned fruit ~

“Nothing quite like tinned pineapple.”

“Puts fresh pineapple in the shade.”

“It’s the juice.”

“It’s more of a syrup, really. It’s not exactly sweet. It’s not exactly bitter.”

“It’s the way it’s not exactly crunchy, and yet it’s firm, and clean-tasting.”

“Where’s the opener?”

Poignant!

The TV version isn’t perfect. It truncates a few things that would only have really worked if done whole, includes a few things it could have done without, and of course has to leave out lots. But it’s sensibly short, at just an hour — plotless things being trick to sustain for longer. And Stoppard is the only one of the various writers to have tackled the book who can not only adapt ready-made bits, but make up new material that feels JKJ-ish (while also being pure Stoppard, as when the careless heroes collide with an anachronistic Percy Bysshe Shelley). And of course he includes some of the strange bits of poetry and tonal shifts.

It’s pretty well worth watching, but not so much as the book is worth reading.

It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk and left the quiet earth alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush, while we her children slept, they were talking with her, their sister — conversing of mighty mysteries too vast and deep for childish human ears to catch the sound.

They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god the have been taught to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing dome spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping, half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.

And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. In its great presence, our small sorrows creep away, ashamed. The day has been so full of fret and care, and our hearts have been so full of evil and of bitter thoughts, and the world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then Night, like some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our fevered head, and turns our little tear-stained faces up to hers, and smiles; and, though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone.

 

Things I Read Off the Screen in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by dcairns

Are we all excited about the new series? We re-watched the last episode of season 2 and the movie, to get us in the mood. Lynch has said the movie is the best way to prepare ourselves for what he has in store. I went LOOKING FOR CLUES.

Fourth shot after the credits sequence ~

UNLAWFUL TO PASS WHEN RED LIGHTS FLASH

Fiona read this one out, which started me thinking it was time for another installment of “Things I Read Off the Screen” — I imagine this is just something that real school buses have, but it feels occult and significant and mysterious here, maybe because school buses aren’t really a thing in the UK. And, given James’ last scene (below), it definitely feels like we’re meant to notice it, and it’ll end up tying the film together.

SHERIFF DEER MEADOW

Nice odd phrase. I’ve been enjoying a terrific podcast called Diane which has studied the original series and the movie and the tie-in books and the film, and is now preparing to appreciate and analyse the new shows. You should give it listen. They point out that Deer Meadow, scene of the first BOB murder, is like the anti-Twin Peaks, a town that’s dead, horrible and utterly lacking in positive magic. And the coffee is horrible. So we’re about to meet the anti-Lucy, a sniggering slut, the anti-Andy, a bragging bully, and the anti-Truman, a hulking brute, Sheriff Cable.

In one of the best of the deleted scenes, Chris Isaak beats the hell out of this guy.

Isaak and his buddy Keifer Sutherland (at times evoking Stan Laurel) discover a clue — the letter T under the corpse’s fingernail, which they RIP OFF. Laura Palmer, in the series, will be discovered with an R under her fingernail. In the extra scenes shot for the European release of the original pilot, we are told that the letters were eventually going to spell ROBERT, but this isn’t really canonical. And nobody ever calls BOB “Robert.” It doesn’t suit him, somehow. Still, I like the idea that the name was going to be spelled backwards (TREBOR), since Bob comes from a world where people speak backwards-forwards at the same time.

Based on this movie, I think maybe the word was going to be DIRT backwards. Leland, Laura’s father, who is BOB on some level, during one of his particularly nasty moments tells her there’s a “piece of DIRT” under her nail. This is clearly a reference to her future fate, but the letter R is literally “a piece of DIRT” so that’s why I think that.

HAP’S. With its weeping clown neon and faulty electrics and anti-Peggy Lipton proprietor, Hap’s is the anti-Double R Diner. Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.

SAY HELLO GOODBYE TO JACK.

FAT TROUT TRAILER PARK MANAGER

9 AM …… EVER

ROD MY TRAILER HAS A LEAK FIX IT BY TOMORROW

The Fat Trout is a classic liminal space, so it makes sense that the denizens of the Black Lodge have been all over this place, apparently scooting in and out by the telegraph wires. The old lady and her grandson (Lynch’s kid, Sean) used to have a trailer here, and will later appear in Twin Peaks on Laura’s meals-on-wheels route. Eerie enough when they keep to their own red room space, they become uncanny in a whole new way when they trespass in our world or show signs of their presence.

Harry Dean Stanton plays Carl Rodd, who will be back in the new series. I like that one of his… tenants?… thinks his name is “Rod.” So they think they’re calling him by his first name when they’re really calling him by his last name. They’re on different planes of familiarity without realising it. I think I’d be the same way if I met Harry Dean Stanton, because I would want to love and admire him and he would think I am an asshole.

kcoR s’teL

Let’s Rock

This is something the man from another place says in the series — part of the reason TP:FWWM arguably doesn’t stand up as an independent work away from the series is that these things are very satisfying to note, but you have to look outside the movie for them. There aren’t many clues IN the movie which help you feel you’re making headway with its mysteries. But I’ve given up letting that bother me.

T

Bobby Briggs has a T on his back! He must be involved in the Theresa Banks case! But this does seem like one of the few red herrings. We can’t get excited every time we see a letter T… can we?

X

Xs, however, are always exciting. This is a direct appearance by red lodge characters in our reality, so the universal symbol for the unknown seems wholly appropriate. If I had the Blu-ray maybe I could tell you what that small lettering says. It might be the key to everything.

The BANG BANG BAR

An exterior featured in one of the trailers for the new series, so it’ll feature again. Under new management, I presume. Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.

TREAT HIM RIGHT

This one is just kind of funny. But it comes in a very fraught scene, which includes flashbacks which help establish Leland’s motivation for murder ~

MOTEL

Unlawful to pass when red light flashes. The movie complicates our understanding of Leland’s guilt. In the series, it’s possible to believe that he’s an innocent man invaded by an alien force (BOB, the double-denim demon). In the movie, we clearly see Leland as Leland, plotting and remembering and in full knowledge of his guilt. It puts me in mind of a passage from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (an ur-text for all divided-consciousness horror tales) where Jekyll complains that, deep into his experiment in duality, he was often wholly Hyde but never wholly Jekyll…

Note the presence of those sinister WIRES again.

STOP

What the critics at the time didn’t notice (along with Sheryl Lee’s moving and bizarre and fearless performance) but which the Diane podcast is great at spotting, is that the movie takes familiar recurring images from the show like the ceiling fan at the Palmer residence and this set of overhanging traffic lights, and imbues them with new and more powerful meaning. This turns out to be the setting for Laura and James’ last love scene. James will watch her go, then wait for the light to turn red before revving up and roaring off…

Unlawful to pass when red light flashes.