Archive for the literature Category

Hatchet Job

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2015 by dcairns

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Sam Peckinpah’s TV play, Noon Wine, based on the short novel by Katherine Anne Porter, occupies a legendary position in his oeuvre, because it turned his career around when he was at a low ebb, making everything afterwards possible (although it’s THE WILD BUNCH which created his unstoppable momentum in the next decade), and also because it’s been almost impossible to see.

After being shut out of the editing room on the troubled MAJOR DUNDEE (Charlton Heston wondered why Orson Welles and Sam Peckinpah, so charming to their actors when they wanted to be, could not turn that charm on the moneymen; Peckinpah wrote to his producer, “You are a well-poisoner, Jerry, and I damn you for it”), and after being fired from THE CINCINATTI KID after allegations that he tried to shoot hardcore pornography on the MGM lot (screenwriter Terry Southern claimed, plausibly, that it was his idea of adding an interracial love scene that freaked out the suits; but see also Susan George’s allegations about Peckinpah’s initial plans for the rape scene in STRAW DOGS, which tends to support suspicions about the director’s enthusiasm for what might be termed “sexual realism”) — anyhow, after all that, nobody was willing to touch Peckinpah.

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This low-budget TV play demonstrated that Peckinpah could be trusted to turn up, shoot to schedule, and get great reviews. What’s weird is how shonky Noon Wine is. Admittedly, the source material screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival, supplied by UCLA, may not have shown the film at it’s best — though this may be the best surviving material. It looks to have been shot on tape, filmed off a TV screen, and then dumped back onto digital, but it’s hard to be sure. The colour is streaky, the image sometimes displaying a tubular edge distortion, and the resolution is low, and there’s also the unpleasantly smooth, HOBBIT-like video movement, though one soon gets used to that.

The piece is obviously cheap as chips, with laughable production design in the courtroom scene — blank stage flats painted in streaks to try to add a spurious sense of detail. But much low-budget TV still impresses, due to story and acting and framing. Noon Wine is erratic in all of these aspects.

Technically, the piece is below the standard of most TV of the period, with music unconvincingly papering over gaps in the soundtrack where Peckinpah seems to have shot mute. The only visual sequences which don’t look flatly televisual are the frequent montages, layerings of lap dissolves to show time passing. Generally, whenever Peckinpah mucks about with lap dissolves, wipes, freeze frames, ripple dissolves or accelerated motion, I cringe. These examples aren’t outright offensive, but they get a little embarrassing sometimes.

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Olivia DeHavilland is good, naturally. Jason Robards SHOUTS all the time, just like Steve Martin in THE JERK. Per Oscarsson is outstanding. Whenever I see him, I always think, Who is this strange man, where did he come from and what’s he doing here? I even saw him in a Swedish film, DR GLAS, and thought the same thing. So he’s perfect to play what the script calls “a stranger in a strange land.” Theodore Bikel essays a range of characterful tics including a Magoo chortle, and seems to have strayed in from another, more amusing but far worse film.

The story seems predicated upon an ambiguous event (an unseen axe murder) like the Marabar Caves in A Passage to India, but Peckinpah struggles to make the unclear clear. His use of monologues, internal monologues, expository dialogue and more montages is frequently awkward. I realized that Peckinpah’s movies are almost never solo writing jobs, though his work on The Rifleman and The Westerner on TV showed he could get the job done OK when he had to. But he never had to solve all the narrative problems of a feature script without help.

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It feels almost ungrateful to get a rare chance to see something like this projected, and not like it better. But that leaves the enduring mystery of how Peckinpah’s career got rebooted by a tiny TV play that isn’t very good. The most interesting thing about it, to me, was that the film, so little seen but so significant in its repercussions for Peckinpah, is like the offscreen murder itself — it is responsible for everything that happens afterwards, but in itself it is unknowable, unseeable and impossible to understand.

I was just thinking, “Now all we need is Nick Ray’s The High Green Wall” — and then I thought to check YouTube and here it is! Hope it’s good.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bad Vats and Jeroboams

Posted in FILM, literature, Radio, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2015 by dcairns

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There are TWO intertitles in Kevin Allen’s new film of UNDER MILK WOOD, screened at EIFF in advance of its general release this autumn. Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the film to frame-grab these from, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. And I can’t remember exactly what they say. The Fest is becoming blurry.

As is the film — frequent smearings of digital vaseline to rub the image into a glassy glaze, along with multiple other tricks and tics — it’s a hugely resourceful film, visually, as it needs to be. The challenge of matching pictures to Dylan Thomas’ “Play for Voices” which don’t overwhelm the text or blandly illustrate it must have been daunting. Allen, who reports that he spent the intervening decade since his last feature working on a pig farm, seems to have grown immensely in stature as a director — this was a proper Ken Russell phantasmagoria.

Allen burst on the scene with TWIN TOWN, producer Andrew MacDonald’s follow-up to TRAINSPOTTING, which I think suffered from the sense of letdown that it wasn’t as assured and entertaining as its predecessor — but it did give us Rhys Ifans. Ifans, who seems to be in every film in the Fest, is back here as both First Voice and Captain Cat Complimenting his Jekyll-Hyde dual role in THE MARRIAGE OF REASON & SQUALOR), along with the estimable Charlotte Church, all lusty smile and lascivious jiggle as Polly Garter.

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Allen decided to treat the film as ALL DREAM, with scenes flowing together and surreal and bawdy rupturings of reality pushing through at every turn. It’s frequently delirious and only occasionally deleterious — when what the text calls a “shaving glass” is represented by a wall mirror in a shop, I couldn’t see what was gained by the mismatch. And maybe there are too many phalluses. But it’s all livelier and more evocative than the earlier Richard Burton job, I think. In that one, the line “circling her nipples with lipstick” is illustrated by a busty wench drawing rings round the outside margins of her bosoms, as if about to turn them into pink-nosed smiley faces. Allen persistently seems to have a better idea of what Thomas was on about, and aided by Mark Thomas’ epic, sumptuous score and Andy Hollis’ gorgeous photography, has created something rather intoxicating.

Sun, Sand and Scuzz

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2015 by dcairns
A Marriage of Reason and Squalor Sky Arts © Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

A Marriage of Reason and Squalor
Sky Arts
© Justin Downing For Sky Arts 2015

Edinburgh International Film Festival is upon us (pictured)! Or almost — the opening gala is tonight, but the press screenings began on Monday and I am scurrying to catch up before the event has even opened.

I feel I should have an Edinburgh-themed banner, but haven’t gotten around to that either. I was thinking of photoshopping Greyfriars Bobby into the TRAINSPOTTING toilet, or showing a woad-daubed Adrienne Corri torching Sean Connery in a Wicker Man fashioned in the likeness of Alastair Sim.

We took a punt on THE MARRIAGE OF REASON AND SQUALOR, the debut feature from Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman Brothers art-making entity, although getting in proved tricky when neither one of us could remember the title.

“That was exactly what I would expect him to have made,” Fiona said afterwards.

“As meaningless as its title. Although there was a marriage.”

“And squalor.”

“But no reason.”

The film is sometimes icky, as you’d expect from the guy who assembled child mannequins with sex organs for faces, and indeed from the brother of the other guy who did the same thing. It’s also sometimes funny, I have to admit. There is apparently a shorter TV edit, and that seemed like it would work better — the film’s more interesting ideas are overextended at feature-length. As a grotesque parody of Mills & Boon-style Gothic romantic paperbacks, it begs the questions Why Do That Now? and Do You Think That’s Edgy?

A very good perf from Sophie Kennedy Clarke, traveling to the beautiful but smelly island of Morass to marry her consulting surgeon Rhys Ifans, helps anchor the thing in some toehold of reality. The island itself is a mix of modest sets, un-sunny British locations, and CGI. It never achieves the stylistic wholeness of Stroheim’s Sternberg’s wholly artificial ANATAHAN. There are some terrific bits of percussive editing in the more experimental scenes, and lame editing in the dramatic ones.

I couldn’t quite work out why Chapman felt himself qualified to write this as a novel, and to direct it as a film/TV show, but needed Brock Norman Brock, he of the comedy name, to write the adaptation. “Maybe he’s not qualified to write a script?” Fiona speculated. “He’s not qualified to write a book or direct a film, but that didn’t stop him.”

I can be cruel, as Fiona will tell you. Actually, I’m kind of glad something as peculiar as this can get made, even if for basically silly reasons. (“He’s an artist! Give him a camera and he can be an artist with a camera!”)

Looking seriously forward to THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMPSON opening the Fest tonight, and to the press showing of Bogdanovich’s SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY earlier in the day. Also industry screening of THE CHAMBERMAID LYNN, which goes before the public on Friday — that’s one of the few I’ve already seen, because I got to write the catalogue copy — I’ll quote you a bit later. It’s lovely.

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