Archive for the literature Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Ass Backwards

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by dcairns

I always liked Leo McCarey’s description, in his Peter Bogdanovich interview (contained in the book Who the Devil Made It?, highly recommended) of coming up with the plot of Laurel & Hardy’s WRONG AGAIN during the course of a brief phone call. There was a reproduction of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy on his wall, and he spitballed the notion that the original gets stolen and the boys hear something of this, and see a horse called Blue Boy and think that’s the stolen item, and try to return it to its “owner.” And he leans out the window but can’t see the horse because of an awning, and thinks they have his painting, and asks them to “take him right in the house.” And later asks them to “put him on the piano.”

(Laurel & Hardy’s intertitles are made of cheap but durable cladding.)

The boys think this is pretty strange, but after all, millionaires are notoriously eccentric, right? Ollie even invents a hand gesture, a cupping accompanied by a firm twist, suggesting how the very rich like to have everything the reverse way round.

This philosophical theory will later be helpful to Stan when he puzzles over a strange piece of statuary. In fact it was once a normal figure, but Ollie shattered it in three pieces, and put it back together wrong. Being a Southern gentleman, he was unable to handle the statue’s bare behind with his bare hands, so wrapped it in his jacket. The result, ladies and gentlemen, is plain to see.

But not plain to Stan, who puzzles over if for 44 seconds in an extraordinary performance which seems to cycle through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, but in the wrong order. He begins with mild surprise and segues into puzzlement. He seems to be adding up the constituent parts to check they are numerically correct. They are, but something is definitely wrong. BARGAINING.

So he’s puzzled some more, and then a sort of false illumination hits him and he becomes, momentarily, very happy. I don’t think Stan knows why he’s smiling, the gladness is just like a hat he’s trying on. Maybe this is how he should react… will everything make sense if he’s happy about it? DENIAL.

Then, just as suddenly, he’s absolutely scandalised. This is an outrage! It’s as if the nude statue has somehow become twice as nude, just to insult him, personally. ANGER.

And back to BARGAINING/DENIAL. Let’s try this from another angle. It might make more sense from over here. Stan is almost moving into the role of an innocent tourist confronting a work of surrealism or, better, cubism, in a gallery.

But this doesn’t help, and finally Stan seems stumped. There are the right number of parts but, like Stan’s thought processes, they are disordered. Nothing seems adequate to explaining this obscurely terrible situation. DEPRESSION.

Finally, he remembers Ollie’s wise words and descriptive hand gesture, and a new happiness descends on him. The awful statue can be explained by the odd nature of the homeowner. Millionaires like normal things reversed. ACCEPTANCE.

Ollie’s fresh smile is now the satisfied bliss of true understanding. But Stan doesn’t leave us on this note. He prepares to leave, back to the plot, but sneaks a last glance at the offending derrière. A queasy feeling comes over him. His joy drains away. Yes. This might all be explicable from an aesthetic-psychological viewpoint, his expression tells us, but it is still deeply screwy. These millionaires are just wrong.

Now, let’s get that horse on the piano.

 

 

Advertisements

T.P.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2017 by dcairns

Yes, enjoying Talking Pictures thanks very much. First heard about this new free cable channel when at the conference in London the other week. It’s up past Film4 so I might never have clicked onto it if I hadn’t had reason to suspect its presence. It arrived with no publicity, like a B-picture in the night.

But it’s not a B-picture channel — the real attraction is the quota quickies. The schedule is simply stuffed with British obscurities. We watched MRS. PYM OF SCOTLAND YARD (1940) which stars Mary Clare from ON THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE though sadly she doesn’t play her smart female detective the way she did her crazy street person in that film (“Ah-ahh-aaahhh-I’m gonna SCREAM!!!”). The plot involves a phony medium and murder by vacuum cleaner. It also features a nubile Irene Handle. 29 years old. You ain’t never had no Irene like that. And Nigel Patrick, doing his fast-talking thing that he did.

On first discovering the channel I set my box to record highlights of the next week’s airings, and a couple of days later we started watching. I think we watched five films. “They’re going to find us covered in cobwebs,” said Fiona.

Fiona got sucked into A TOUCH OF LOVE, a thick slice of Margaret Drabble from 1969 with Sandy Dennis doing an excellent English accent. She was waiting to see a nubile Ian McKellen, and by the time he turned up as a randy TV presenter, she had to know what happened next, a problem few seem to have had back in the day. Waris Hussein, an interesting guy with an interesting career, sadly does not look to be actually an interesting director on the basis of this one. Eleanor Bron cemented the sense of middle-class ennui, if one can cement a sense, and if anyone can it’s Eleanor.

There was a short consisting of Algernon Blackwood clubbishly narrating his worst ever story to, persistently, the wrong camera — I was in heaven. There was BITTER HARVEST, which I’d actually heard of and wanted to see — a 1963 adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. God it was dreadful. In fairness, Peter Graham Scott directed with expressive gusto (usually misplace) and you could see they were trying to make a Bardot out of the perky Janet Munro, which could have worked if they hadn’t converted Hamilton’s low-key melancholy into a prurient-yet-moralising Road to Ruin farrago. Alan Badel was supposed to turn up as a smutty toff, so I had to watch, but we got a framed picture of him in scene one and then he didn’t appear in person until about ten minutes from the end. As with the Drabble, the terrible title should have been a warning.

Best of this batch was probably COSH BOY (known in America as THE SLASHER) , a 1953 juvie crime epic directed by Lewis Gilbert. The violence is nearly all off-camera. James Kenney is impressively loathsome, except a bit of charm or enjoyable menace might have made the thing more watchable. It’s like having Andy Robinson’s Scorpio killer as your lead character, although the movie keeps backing away from having anyone badly hurt. It promises mayhem and then in the next scene it’ll turn out that, oh, that night watchman was only slightly injured by the bullet to the chest. It’s like the padre scene of IF…. going on forever. Kenney does do some Oscar-worthy snivelling when his comeuppance is to hand, and we get a fair amount of screen time devoted to a teenage Joan Collins, talking in her natural cock-er-knee accent.

COSH BOY backwards is pronounced YOB SHOCK.

Be sure to watch this channel if you have it. I don’t know if their business model — showing mostly forgotten rubbish — is really workable, but I sure hope so. You also get Chaplins, Wylers, Laurel & Hardys and Ken Russells thrown into the mix, so it’s not like it’s all just impressive for its obscurity. But the stuff that’s got me gripped is that dredged from the murky sumps of British cinema. I guess I’m just born bad — with a talent for trouble! Seeking sensations at any cost!

A DD-Notice Situation

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by dcairns

We watched LIFEFORCE recently, to get me in the mood for my trip to London. With Fiona protesting that she’d rather watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or any of the, you know, GOOD Tobe Hooper films. Because the man had just died, and was this really the way he’d want to be remembered? But then, I bet he’d want to be remembered as more than JUST the director of TTCM.

I also read some good defences of the (arguably indefensible) film and that, coupled with the fact that, you know, the man had just died, made me sort of afraid to write about it, because I couldn’t really bring myself to say that the film is “good” — but at the same time, we had a hell of a good time watching it, so there’s that.

How do we parse this distinction between “good” and “a good time”? Are movies like women in ‘forties films? At any rate, much of what is hilarious and delightful in LIFEFORCE *could* be deliberate, which should lift the movie clean out of the “so bad it’s good” category. What makes my head go all Linda Blair is a feeling that even IF the ridiculous choices ARE purely intentional, they still seem crazy and impossible to defend on any normal grounds.What do I mean? Well, the story, adapted from Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby (INVADERS FROM MARS) deals with a naked space lady (Mathilda May) sucking the energy out of London’s masculine population. I think the idea of a monster movie where the monster is a naked girlie is kind of hilarious — as if they asked the question, What are teenage boys REALLY scared of? I think they could even have gotten away with the nude, but not a really busty nude. The film looks glorious — Alan Hume’s lovely lurid colours in anamorphic widescreen — but the shot of the menacing shadow of tits on the wall should arguably have been vetoed. Except no, because it’s perfectly in tune with the film’s demented tone. Hell, it exemplifies it.

(Colin Wilson was England’s top existentialist angry young man for a fortnight in the fifties — I don’t know what led him to write a Quatermass knock-off. I first encountered him during research for a Jack the Ripper project — he was a prominent ripperologist — but, as I discovered in my reading — he really didn’t know very much about the case, and much of what he claimed to know was wrong.)

Hard to explain the odd effect of the dialogue: apart from Steve Railsback, it’s a lovely cast of Brits, speaking in a pastiche of Britishness that seems at least ten years out of date. V FOR VENDETTA has a similarly timewarped quality, highly gigglesome. I don’t imagine it sounds so comical to Americans, because it’s not THAT off. It’s a good pastiche of Hammer horror dialogue, or maybe a tough crime drama with Stanley Baker.That cast — Frank Finlay is playing it quiet, well aware how close to looking ridiculous he is. He only loses it when he has to shout over a radio link, and his Shakespearean enunciation makes the whole thing rather Toast of London. Peter Firth is superb — full-on restrained camp. That thing when restraint becomes in itself a form of ham. And then there’s good old Michael Gothard, yielding sweatily to the temptations of the flesh just as he did in THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and THE DEVILS and…And Patrick Stewart! As if the second question they asked was What else will freak out teenage boys? and their answer was Homosexual Panic. Possessed by the naked space babe, Patrick turns on his sexual magnetism, and Railsback just can’t resist leaning in for a kiss. Hilarious to watch Firth and Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris dashing in to manfully prevent this same-sex violation of the norm, and then the room going poltergeistically haywire as the thwarted sex drive runs amok. (“CAN YOU IMAGINE how much fun Patrick Stewart would be having with a scene like that?” asked my host in London when I described it.)There’s more, so much more. The film is much less interested in its male vampires, but one of them does get to say to Firth, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.” Whoops and cheers.

There’s lots of impressive animatronic zombie-work, all cut SLIGHTLY too loose, spoiling the illusion, and lots of fun QUATERMASS AND THE PIT panic on the streets, and as I say, the film looks great. In fact, my host in London was taught at the NFTS by Alan Hume. “He called everyone darling, regardless of sex.” He was clearly the man for LIFEFORCE.And Frank Finlay’s finale is terrific — the film’s one genuinely great scene for which you don’t have to make apologies or suspend disbelief or try to wedge yourself into a previously unimagined tone encompassing camp and B-movie thickear, the knowing and the unknowing. A scene that would hold its own in a real Nigel Kneale script. And FFinlay, having held back so long, makes a perfectly judged decision to have fun with it, as he expires in a welter of bladder effects. Stirring stuff.

(This is arguably as inappropriate an homage to the late Mr. Finlay as it is to Hooper, but I watched him in Dennis Potter’s Casanova too so I’m covered on that score.)

So why can’t I give the film total respect? It does seem to know what it’s doing. I feel like a humourless critic at a Ken Russell film, recognising that he’s displaying a comedic attitude but unable to grant him permission because the precise timbre of his wit seems unacceptable. I love Ken Russell, I *can* accept his bizarre tonal combinations and jokes that seem designed not to get laughs but just to buffet the sensibilities. Maybe LIFEFORCE isn’t serious enough to get away with it? Maybe I should just bloody well RELAX? “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”