Archive for the literature Category

Dubbed and doubled in doublets

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2015 by dcairns

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CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT at Film Forum, with a Skype call to Beatrice Welles introducing it. A full house – during the Super Bowl, which I gather is kind of a big deal en Amerique – because it’s a rarely screened movie. Though for the internet-savvy, ethically unclean bootlegging type of cinephile, almost nothing is rare anymore. But I’d certainly never had an opportunity to see Welles’ masterpiece on the big screen, and I hadn’t seen this new restoration.

Unfortunately, for reasons no doubt clear to the architect, the auditorium at Film Forum is built along the lines of a corridor in a German expressionist film, and we were at the back, viewing the screen as a tiny, distant window in the darkness. I could easily arrange my TV at home to fill a larger percentage of my field of vision. But I would have missed the intro, the Q&A, and the audience, who worked their way through the various kinds of laughter Shakespearian comedies get: from the “I understood that!” laugh, which is essentially humourless, to the “I understood that and it’s actually funny!” laugh, which is wonderful to hear.

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Beatrice W claimed the film was missing a couple of shots from the Battle of Shrewsbury, but I didn’t spot any gaps. There are several shots in that montage which are ingrained quite specifically in my memory, and they were all present, but it’s such a long and complicated sequence that I guess some less obvious snippets could go astray and I might not notice. Still, I wouldn’t entirely take BW’s word for it without further evidence. After all, she claimed to be Welles’ executor, which I gather is not wholly true – she has the rights to OTHELLO and nothing else, though that hasn’t stopped her threatening with legal action anyone who tries to restore or complete a Welles film. (It seemed like she BELIEVES she embodies Welles’ estate, though, just as she states that her parents stayed married all their lives, ignoring the fact that Welles was living with Oja Kodar for most of that time.) She managed to get the TOUCH OF EVIL restoration pulled from Cannes, and delayed THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND for so long that the editor patiently waiting to complete it, Frank Mazzola, has died of old age. Plus, her “restoration” of OTHELLO is so inauthentic and misguided that I would hesitate before accepting her views of any other restoration job.

It was a relief to see that CHIMES’ restoration hasn’t resulted in a soundtrack cleaned up to a level of purity in never had. The synch is still uncertain – Welles is content to have characters walk through shot, albeit briskly, lips clamped shut, while their voices rabbit on over the soundtrack, so no amount of digital jiggery-pokery was ever going to render things conventionally polished. But this hardly matters. By focussing on technical flaws like this, Pauline Kael damaged the movie’s chances in America. To really love it, you have to accept Welles’ slightly idiosyncratic technical standards.

Welles described his interpretation of Falstaff as being “like a magnificent Christmas tree decorated with vices, but the tree itself is pure and good” – and the film could be said to be similar. Occasional lapses in the generally splendid production values, bold edits that don’t quite come off, dubbed Spaniards who look like dubbed Spaniards – these gives critics something to talk about but are irrelevant to the film’s sweep, beauty and emotional affect, which is greater than any other Welles movie.

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The q&a after the screenings featured some pretty lame questions from the public, but fair play to Beatrice, she did manage to answer most of them in a way that was informative. Apart from being dubbed herself, she mentioned that she was also doubled, since she came down with rheumatic fever, so every time we don’t see her face, it’s actually a little French schoolboy playing the part. But then, everyone else is doubled too – I expect the clanking, armoured Falstaff who galumphs robotically about the battlefield isn’t Welles, and since Gielgud and Moreau were available for short snatches of shooting, any time you don’t see them clearly it’s someone else in a crown or a wig.

“What happened to Keith Baxter?” asked our screening companion, Farran Smith Nehme, the Self-Styled Siren, and I had to admit I don’t know. He should have had a much bigger career, I would have thought. Of course, he had the benefit of a great director here, but then so did Robert Arden in MR ARKADIN and he still came rigid and irksome. Baxter had real talent — and didn’t make another film for five years.

There’s a CHIMES book, collecting script, reviews, and interviews, and Baxter’s contribution shines. He talks about Welles filming an army charging in one direction, then optically flipping half the shots so it becomes two armies charging at each other. There’s also good info on the rather musty Spanish DVD, which has unsubtitled interviews with the likes of Jesus Franco. Unfortunately the late Mr. Franco has a very specific and thick accent, and not many teeth, so that my usual benshi film describer, David Wingrove, was only able to give us an approximate idea of what he was saying. But there’s a good bit about Welles filming in a ruined cathedral which had no ceiling and a missing wall, which he turned to his advantage — so much daylight was admitted that Welles didn’t have to use artificial lighting. As Baxter says, “Well, he was a magician.”

A thousand thanks to the Siren for a lovely evening!

That Inner Voice

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2015 by dcairns

 

 

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Naturally, I bought a bunch of books when I was in New York earlier this week. I always find when I go to Strand that they have a gazillion books but nothing I need (though the first time I visited I was astonished to bump into Mark Cousins: two guys from Edinburgh in the film section, whaddayaknow?), whereas the lovely Mercer Street Books & Records is built on a human scale: there’s one row of shelves on film, and I can look through it in a leisurely and comfortable fashion with jazz playing, and always find at least four or five things I want. This time there were two nice books of interviews with film editors. One had Dede Allen and Anne V. Coates, but was more expensive. It’s probably still there, New Yorkers! I went for Gabriella Oldham’s First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors, the cheaper paperback. Opening it at random I looked at the piece of Sidney Levin, who cut NASHVILLE and a bunch of Martin Ritt films. I don’t know Ritt’s work well, so I wondered how interesting it would be. It was EXTREMELY interesting.

Oldham asks a question about music and gets an answer that dovetails into addressing Universal Artistic Principles.

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Martin Ritt’s SOUNDER, edited by Sidney Levin.

“If you cut to the beat, you’re being predictable, which is okay. And it will help you if you want to pull the rug out from under the audience later by an unexpected change of rhythm; that’s fun to do. On an emotional scene, I will often cut rhythmically until something’s about to happen, then I’ll throw everything off so you get tripped. It’s the art of seduction. You’re always seducing. You’re seducing the audiences, your lovers, your readers. You’re seducing everybody into giving away their protection. By setting up a structure, you’re allowing them to be protected. Suddenly you pull the structure out, they’re unprotected but they feel safe, and that’s the art of seduction. Then you go ahead and do what you have to do. I don’t know if I can say any more than that because how can you articulate something that’s instinctive? You just know. And the process of becoming an artist is to trust when you know. The problem with many directors and producers is that they don’t know what they know! They see it, but they don’t believe it. They’re afraid to believe what they’ve seen. You have to learn to trust that inner voice that never lies. But if you’re full of fear, you can’t hear that voice. And then you’ll try to codify what it is that makes something right. You realize, of course, that can’t be done.”

Scuddy Mags

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by dcairns

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We called them scuddy mags or scuddy books at school. Not sure why. Scuddy rhymes with nuddy which is childish slang for nudie, but I don’t know that explains anything. I don’t know how widespread the term was. More information required. What did YOU call porno mags when you were at school?

THE LOOK OF LOVE is Michael SpringbottomWinterbottom’s film of the life of British porn mogul Paul Raymond. While THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT used the smut-peddlar bio form as a device to explore issues of free speech and censorship, Raymond’s career does not lend itself to such lofty matters — he mainly stayed safely within the UK’s notoriously vague obscenity laws (for which the word “draconian” could be applied except that it would be unfair to dragons) during his heydays in the sixties, seventies and eighties. He made a vast amount of money, lived the playboy lifestyle in his Bond villain penthouse, and ended up pretty sad, as do so many of us humans. If the film has a point, it’s a study of a failed father, I guess.

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Steve Coogan is the pillar around which the film is constructed — the master impersonator cast as the self-made man who transformed himself from, we are told, humble origins, changing his name, his accent, his persona. There are some funny bits — Coogan can’t let two hours go by without doing SOMETHING funny, but there’s also some tonal uncertainty about how snarky and kitsch the film can be when detailing the story of a man who, essentially, kills his own daughter with kindness.

I generally hate Summerbottom Winterbottom films but all his stuff with Coogan is very watchable. This one is interesting because he solves some of his usual problems. There’s a kind of childish desire to be EXPLICIT, showing pigs slaughtered (JUDE), childbirth (JUDE, A COCK AND BULL STORY) and sex (9 SONGS) and violence (THE KILLER INSIDE ME) in a slightly confrontational, slightly obnoxious, and slightly naff way — “This is what it’s REALLY LIKE, yeah?” I loathe this side of Autumnbottom Winterbottom. But here, despite the subject matter, it’s mainly kept in check. There’s quite a bit of tit and bum, but one’s face is not rubbed in it. I assumed, going in, that the auteur would find it artistically essential to fill the screen with beaver shots, but either Film4 cut them out, or he’s got all that out of his system. (One highly regarded makeup artist’s first “big job” was making a cast of Kate Winslet’s private genital parts so a special-effects childbirth could be staged for JUDE. Welcome to showbiz!)

Good supporting perfs. The piling on of comedians is distracting — Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Miles Jupp, Stephen Fry, Mark Williams and Dara O’Briain (playing what seems to be a sort of approximation of Alexei Sayle — I forgot that Raymond owned The Comedy Store, where alternative comedy was born). The one who is an unqualified success is Chris Addison, a brilliant, loose, natural performer (only ever not great in his recent Dr. Who guest spot — I blame the writing there). Addison is playing Men Only‘s editor, hilariously called Tony Power (but that’s nothing: another real-life Raymond associate is called Carl Snitcher. The comedy is inherent).

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I’m sure I had a kind of encounter with Tony Power. In the early days of video rental, our local shop gave us a free tape when we borrowed something else — it was a VHS compendium of clips and trailers, sort of suggestions for things you might want to rent (except of course your local shop probably didn’t have any of these titles). This thing had a presenter, a bloke in smoky shades with a Pink Panther cuddly toy as his sidekick, and he was very creepy. He definitely had a porno vibe, but he was trying to be family-friendly, despite sporting tobacco-smoke shades and a Yorkshire Ripper beard. But there he was, with his cuddly-toy co-host, showing you tits-out footage from Bert Gordon’s THE WITCHING. It was all very… inappropriate. Based on the excellent portrayal of Chris Addison, I am morally certain that strange, unsettling man was Tony Power.

I feel a little bit sorry for screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh — the film feels quite improvisatory in its dialogue, which is often quite amusing — Coogan does a few impressions (not sure if this is something Raymond ever did) — but it’s full of anachronisms. Many writers will work quite hard to get realistic period-sounding talk, but once the actors start making it up as they go along, how are you going to impose quality control on the authenticity? One quite inoffensive example is when Tamsin Egerton (as porn goddess “Fiona Richmond”) says “I did not know that,” a kind of catchphrase that seems to have come in in the late nineties. In fact, the earliest utterance of it I noticed was from John Goodman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Weirdly, by creating a late nineties catchphrase in a movie set in the early nineties, Goodman may have somehow originated an anachronism, inventing a phrase now associated with an era later than the one in which the movie takes place. But I’ll let him off with that.

(My memory is that CONTROL, also scripted by Greenhalgh, had a very sure sense of period in its dialogue as in everything else.)

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One thing about 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, the first Coogan-Winterbottom joint, which is very good fun, is that Winterbottom seemed helpless to visualise or exploit the music, which was in a sense the film’s subject. Here, he arrays a medley of sixties and seventies hits across the soundtrack, including the titular Bacharach track, sung by Imogen Poots as Debbie Raymond with a touching, thin voice. Her big, hopeful eyes, grin of a thousand teeth, and projecting, mouselike ears make her a heartbreaking presence. She’s like an impossibly thin champagne glass lying fragile on the floor while porno elephants in jackboots dance a troika all around her. While the song selection isn’t exactly imaginative — there’s nothing that wouldn’t be on a greatest hits collection — it’s appropriate and each number gets a chance to make its impression. There’s a double use of Anyone Who Had a Heart that seemed wrong, though. Maybe because the song is so great you can’t use it except in a masterpiece, or maybe because the lyrics are too explicit to fit to a different situation, maybe because the montage it plays to is completely wrong — a flashback that wants to be about happy memories of one particular character but instead feels like an entire scene lifted out of an earlier point and dropped into the timeline later, full of irrelevant stuff of other characters who have no place in this sequence. (See PRIEST, which is no masterpiece, but finds an effective way to employ the song.)

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As far as I can tell, nobody went to see this movie, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all. Sex still sells, but maybe people don’t like the thought of seeing Steve Coogan doing it or selling it, and people prefer to consume it in private. Check the movie out if it comes your way: good Coogan, Poots, Addison, Egerton, and a revelatory hard-bitten Anna Friel.

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