Archive for the MUSIC Category


Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on October 19, 2016 by dcairns


I was lecturing today upon the art of visualisation — getting from words on a page to images on a screen. I wanted to show the first talking scene from THE GRADUATE but I also thought “What the hell?” and showed the whole title sequence.

It brought back to me my first impressions of seeing the film as a teenager: how the opening shot immediately made me feel that I was in… not safe hands, but purposeful hands. Here’s Dustin Hoffman as a kind of disembodied head. The filmmaker definitely has something on his mind. It turns out Mike Nichols signature image for the film was “He’s out of his depth.” Hence all those shots of Dustin Hoffman poolside, or filmed through glass, or otherwise framed in a way to suggest drowning. Here he is, shot as if bobbing in a sea of white upholstery.


Then we get the shot Tarantino stole for JACKIE BROWN’s title sequence. As blatant thefts go, it can be excused somewhat on the basis that it’s not just a nice shot repeated, but the shot is apt in both cases. Our main character is a passenger. Dustin Hoffman is literally a passenger, Pam Grier is a stewardess, but still, she does not control where the plane is going. By shooting both characters on a kind of conveyor belt, the directors suggest that these people are trapped in a rut, being led along by life, passive. But this is going to change.

Nichols goes one better and cuts to Hoffman’s suitcase, on its own conveyor. Dustin is like his suitcase, and inanimate object trundling along on a preordained path.

For the first time, I noticed the sign. I’m obsessed with writing onscreen but I had not become so when I first saw this movie. It’s a great line to put up front in what is, in effect, a romantic comedy in disguise ~


Just back from Ricky Callan’s funeral. When the music in the pub switched to Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, I figured that the day had come full circle and it was time to wander home. Cheers, Ricky.

Build the wall

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2016 by dcairns


If Trump becomes president, that wall’s going to be really useful to stop Americans fleeing to Mexico, isn’t it?

Another wall features in the film of Len Deighton’s FUNERAL IN BERLIN, scripted by Evan Jones (MODESTY BLAISE) and directed by Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER), which sets out to be as opposite to Modesty and Bond as it can be, and as close as possible to its illustrious predecessor, THE IPCRESS FILE. I was wrong earlier when I said Hamilton doesn’t attempt the Sid Furie style — although Otto Heller’s Teutonic camera only gets up close and personal with a lampshade on one occasion, and there’s a shortage of true hiding-behind-the-potted-palm angles, he does do plenty of crazy things to convince us we’re surveilling the action with hidden spycams.


  1. Lots and lots of low angle shots, which make Michael Caine look heroic but also equalise everyone’s height, so they stop Michael from towering over his co-stars.
  2. Composition in extreme depth and extreme length (widescreen).


3. Some over-the-shoulder shots that are all shoulder, the poor “subject” of the shot a distant dot, like Pluto.


4. Occasional Dutch (or Deutsch) tilts.

Hamilton is fully entitled to go Dutch, since he was assistant director on THE THIRD MAN. Whenever Harry Lime passes through shot and we don’t see his face, it’s Guy doubling for him. Guy “satchel-foot” Hamilton, we should call him.

I haven’t read this Deighton (yet) but Jones clearly departs from the novel in delivering scenes without Harry Palmer in them. He’s the narrator of the book so he’s kind of obliged to turn up for each scene in it. He may also have added a touch more action — Deighton made it a rule never to allow violence to solve the hero’s problems, a fine principle which will make anybody’s writing better — try writing an action movie in which violence never achieves its purpose for the hero, and you’ll have something interesting.


Hamilton, true to his Bondian experience, doesn’t distance and deglamorise the few bits of chop-socky or fisticuffs the way Furie did (shooting a punch-up from inside a phone booth while John Barry’s score noodles strange arpeggios of hallucinatory, Escher-like falling-yet-rising…). And John Barry does not return — instead we get, I must say, a very good and witty score from Konrad Elfers, suitably Germanic, but not as distinctive or cool as IPCRESS. Still, I kind of like the way this series kept changing its style.

Ken Adam is designer, another Bond connection. Few sets and no giant megalomaniac control rooms, but Adam follows the advice he got from Mike Todd and always thinks big — hence, the Berlin police station which Palmer cheekily uses as a recruiting office for crooks (“Tell me, is [such-and-such] the burglar still alive? And out of prison?”) seems to be a fucking cathedral. Why not? The East German equivalent is prison-like, windowless, dark, and apparently of limitless expanse.


Oscar Homolka plays the jocular, avuncular, ursine Colonel Stok, who would return in Ken Russell’s follow-up, and there’s fine work from Guy Doleman (the series’ only other regular) and Gunter Miesner (Yay! Mr. Slugworth from WILLIE WONKA). Eva Renzi is the weak spot, not projecting the toughness her character, an Israeli agent undercover as a fashion model hunting a fugitive Nazi, should have. Reading that description back, it all sounds too exotic for a Harry Palmer film anyway. She also doesn’t sell the romance, but Caine and the script don’t work very hard on that score either.

The twisty plot is based around one fairly obvious trick buried within and confused by lots of other, more peculiar and hard-to-guess ones, all in the shadow of a big, nasty wall.

The only things walls should be for is to keep the wind off us.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Erotic Adventures of Prince Achmed

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on October 2, 2016 by dcairns


So I finally got to see Lotte Reininger’s shadow-puppet animation THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED on the big screen, thanks to the wondrous Shona Thomson, organizer of the tour it’s just been on — this 90-year-old German silent has been all around Scotland, accompanied by improvisatory acoustic combo Sink, playing to packed houses. I failed to crowbar myself into the screening at Filmhouse, so popular was it, but Shona got me a comp for beloved Bo’ness, the final stop on the tour.


“No, not the Flooby Monster!”

The plot is glorious nonsense, seeming as improvised as the score, and less organized, despite the time-consuming nature of animation. Reininger evidently aspired to script as quickly as she could scissor a cut-out character, and the result has the chaotic, freewheeling, logic-free quality of authentic folkd tale/myth, even though virtually nothing is actually taken from The Thousand and One Nights. Aladdin and his lamp feature, but are conflated with Ali Baba’s cave and a number of other things. My favourite aspect of the flaky structure was the long flashback (The Arabian Nights is full of nested narratives within narratives, it’s like Cloud Atlas written by an army of monkeys) in which Aladin (sic) recounts how he got from being some poor schmoe in Baghdad to having a palace and living with a princess, to losing everything and becoming a poor schmoe in China, being attacked by a flooby monster (I call it that: it doesn’t have a name in the film. I suppose it would be ein floobenmonster in the original German). This saga is embedded within Achmed’s own adventure, happening in parallel with it, but seems to cover weeks of time at the very least, whereas Achmed’s story appears to unfold within a single day. I love this. It’s the most impossible thing in a story containing demons, spirits and a mechanical flying horse, but it’s hidden in plain sight.


All I knew about Lotte R. is that she made this kind of thing. Turns out she made it by sawing a hole in her best dining table. But I did know a little about Oskar Fischinger, who worked with melted and reformed wax — though he has no credit on the film, I wondered if he was somehow involved, as the bubbly, globular magic performed by the sinister African sorcerer looks very Fischingeresque. There are also great effects with shadowy shapes, identifiable as the work of credited collaborator Walter Ruttmann, who created similar effects for Fritz Lang.


To begin with, Achmed’s adventures seem rather sex-obsessed. The sorcerer fancies his sister, so gets rid of Achmed with his flying horse. Achmed lands, with some difficulty, in the Wak Wak Islands, where all the girls are crazy about him. There’s a long kissy sequence which slowly and hilariously transforms into a riot as the girls can’t get enough of each other and start fighting each other and wrecking the cut-out scenery. Very Weimar moment where to girls lunge at once and he ducks and they’re surprised to find themselves kissing one another.


Audience members reported being enchanted by the tiny rippling reflections in the water.

Escaping the hot-tempered maidens, Achmed then peeps at the Princess Pari Banu and her maidservants bathing, and steals the princess’s feathered bird-of-paradise costume so he can abduct her naked. But then he wins her heart by letting her have clothes after all. This is the end – almost – of the sex part of the film. The rest is mostly violence, except for when Achmed rescues Pari Banu (the English subtitles persistently called her Peri Banu, an act of imperialism almost as bad as Achmed’s own) from the fiendish Chinese, and immediately takes her to bed. This is pretty sudden: they’re still in China, surrounded by enemies. But I guess he’s waited long enough.

(Once, researching puppetry for a project, I found a book which had a whole chapter on eroticism. Every single image was appallingly creepy. It seems that puppetry, using as it does human movement, like dance, is well-suited to evoking sex, but because it uses surrogates, the result is always going to be really freaky and wrong. Animation, which does not use human movement, and in a way does not depict real movement at all, is further removed from reality and somehow becomes less weird and pervy. So ACHMED can be full of intimations of hot puppet sex without making you worry about what the puppets smell like.)


I loved the use of shallow focus: pre-anime!

Demons versus spirits! Witch versus sorcerer! The final parts of the film feature multiple decapitations and mayhem, with Achmed’s scimitar despatching his opponents almost as fast as Reininger’s scissors can create them. If you’re a little worried, as I was, by the travesty of African and Chinese villains, you can take comfort in the fact that all the characters are ethnic, with Aladin in particular having a very beautiful Arabic quality in profile, without being caricatured. I guess in a story like this, the Arab characters are stand-ins for the presumed white audience, but at least they’re allowed to look Middle-Eastern. It’s not like casting Dale Robertson as Sinbad Jnr.


Sink’s music complimented the magic show beautifully — landing squarely in the mysterious Central Zone between right-but-obvious on one extreme and distractingly-wrong on the other, the accompaniment was always spot-on but in ways you couldn’t define or explain. The trio don’t always even look at the screen, apparently, but play an assortment of instruments, including the proverbial kitchen sink as part of the percussion. If you could tear your eyes from the screen you could catch the saxophonist ringing bells with his feet. I was wondering how the kids in the audience — and there were several — would react, but they were good as gold, and they got to play with the instruments at the end, which may possibly have been the most magical part of the evening for them. Oh, and there was a microphone with some weird echoing special effects on it, the one non-acoustic element of the score. I kind of wish I’d had a go on that, but I did ring a foot-bell.

From Gerald Kersh’s short story The Musicians, which I was reading just before the show started:

The second saxophonist played without moving his body. He was a long, lachrymose man, but as his fingers ran over the keys, complicated as the controls of a submarine, his eyelids drooped, his cheeks fell in, and something like a sleepy smile curved the corners of his mouth, as if he was sucking sweet nourishment out of the reed. […]

The drummer brandished strange weapons. He tickled the parchment with wire, and it laughed; rapped it with sticks, and it muttered; beat it with a club, and it groaned; while the man’s face, distorted as with rage, writhed and grimaced, and a queer fleck of golden light reflected from one of the cymbals fluttered around his mouth and forehead.

But Willie seemed to sit above it all. I watched his face. It expressed the mildest kind of astonishment. He held his violin, richly coloured like smoked fish, and glanced with a kind of dismay at his left hand, which, leaping out of his cuff, was running wild on the strings.