Archive for the MUSIC Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Parsifal Guy

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , on February 5, 2023 by dcairns

PARSIFAL or, in this Dutch-titled copy, PARZIVAL, is a 1912 Italian super-production running a whole fifty minutes. Mario Caserini is the director, who would make THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII the following year. Sadly he died in 1920, which is early, though it might be possible to judge whether he was adapting along with the newish medium if one were to view his later films.

But this one is impressive — it begins with odd things on sticks, which I always think is a smart way to start off. A parade of knights, monks, and such — and they just keep coming. Caserini has found the ideal camera placement — high up and from the back, so these characters keep passing into view, each a delightful surprise in his odd vestments and his own individual odd thing on a stick, and they just keep coming. He manages to keep this shot going for a minute and a half. It’s like how you don’t get bored of the imperial destroyer passing overhead at the start of STAR WARS: you just get more and more impressed. I hate pageantry, normally — God, how I hate it — and this is certainly pageant-adjacent, but it honestly wowed me.

Then, since it worked once, Caserini does it again, to slightly less effect since we’ve already seen these blokes, but this time their passing into the castle or chapel or whatever it is where the Holy Grail is on permanent display. The gang crowding into the doorway put me in mind of the end of Keaton’s COPS.

As the film goes on, we get mysterious disappearance by both dissolve and jump cut, an angel, some barbarians executing a hoax, lovely depth compositions and mismatched left-to-right business where a knight exits screen right then enters a new shot screen right again, as if he’d somehow turned his horse around in an instant. So much to enjoy.

I’m playing it with Wagner as soundtrack, and I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

The Death of the Arthur: Guinevere Off Course

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2023 by dcairns

SWORD OF LANCELOT — originally LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE — part 3.

The retitling, to emphasise stabbing over kissing, is like the mirror version of THE DEATH OF ROBIN HOOD getting retitled ROBIN AND MARIAN.

I can never quite believe Camelot’s stonework in this one. It seems like a grooved impasto of paint rather than carved stone. It’s close, but it doesn’t quite compel belief, like Cornel Wilde’s out-raj-us accent. It’s really a shame he doesn’t seem to taunt anyone in this film, it would make the MONTY PYTHON connection come shimmering to life.

Not for the first time, though, I’ve judged the film too hastily and harshly — the big battle with the Viking raiders has a slight plot purpose — when Lancelot returns, he has his slain pal carried on his tabard. Seeing this from a distance, Guinevere thinks he’s dead, and Arthur notices her excessive grief. The plot has thickened. Good acting by Wallace and Aherne, a couple of fine thesps.

Ron Goodwin’s romance music is nice — though it doesn’t touch his key works, 633 SQUADRON’s rambunctious theme, and the Miss Marple theme from the Margaret Rutherford films. He also scored the ’73 GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, which is relevant to our purposes.

The very unchivalric adultery is the talk of the court — Lancelot is tempted to slip away back to Brittany, but Guinevere urges him to visit her bedchamber before he leaves…

Conversation about falconry: we learn that Modred’s adorable little feathered friend is called Griselda, which makes her seem like a witch’s familiar, which might well be the case. Some versions of the saga make Modred/Mordrid/Mordred the son of Morgan le Fey, who is usually a sorceress, so he’s not far removed from black magic. But this is a disappointingly magicless Camelot, in which Merlin’s expertise is limited to knowledge of soap.

Griselda is my favourite character, and she’s only been in one shot.

The sex scene — it’s 1963 so there’s implied nudity with both characters in bed and who knows if anyone’s got one foot on the floor? — confirms my suspicions about Cornel Wilde, as producer, having a hand in the infamous “cunnilingus scene” in THE BIG COMBO, where Richard Conte descends out of shot and Jean Wallace continues to react fervently to some unseen stimulus — because they do the same thing here! True, Wilde has some unmuffled dialogue from below frame, but what’s happening in the gaps between sentences? Wallace’s equally fervid performance provides a hint. The image is fuzzy, veiled by the bed’s translucent canopy, but the implication is pretty clear. Joseph H. Lewis’s claim to have slipped the suggestive scene past Wilde on his day off looks weaker — I love JHL but he wouldn’t be the first director to steal credit for an idea.

It’s not at all clear why Lancelot has chosen to visit his love wearing full-length chainmail. I can’t decide if this is more or less loopy than the full plate mail rogering scene in EXCALIBUR. At least Uther was on his way into battle, so there was a reason for having it on (but perhaps not while having it off).

Some spirited action as the lovers are apprehended post fragrante delicto — L escapes, G is caught.

A pyre is built to burn Guinevere, and this is all so like the turn the plot takes in CAMELOT that I’m wondering how much of this is TH White, but no, it seems to be part of fairly early myths, just stuff I wasn’t familiar with (and not covered by Boorman).

Camelot has a hunchbacked, cackling bellringer, just to make things feel sufficiently classical.

Arthur, it turns out, is responsible for a law which says adulteresses must be burned — he’d like to make an exception, but this would destroy his claim to be a just king. The trouble with this is one is disinclined to sympathise today with any king who would make such a law. One feels King Arthur is supposed to be an admirable figure but this movie undercuts him at every chance. His cuckoldry is muchly of his own making — he throws Lance and Gwen together, particularly by barring her from hunting, which leaves the poor girl with nothing to do except invite the oral attentions of a gleaming Frenchman.

Jean Wallace at the stake — her performance is uncomfortably reminiscent of her performance in the bedchamber, moaning and perspiring at something below the edge of frame. Toothless yokels in fright wigs watch the show, gloating: it’s not absolutely clear why Camelot is a good thing if it provides shelter to these abominations. Wilde’s camera lingers on a Wilfred Brambell type with sideshow enthusiasm.

Lancelot rides in and rescues his girlfriend — I think it’s a mistake of the script to have him kill a loyal knight in his previous escape, rather than here, where it will amp up the dramatic stakes, if you’ll pardon the expression, at the most effective moment. And the lack of swordfighting here makes the rescue seem rather easy.

Uncanny scene where Gawain rides up to a castle and taunts Lancelot. This is backwards — the Frenchman ought to do the taunting, we all know that.

Another good bit of direct cutting (influence of nouvelle vague, already felt in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) — Lancelot agrees to fight Gawain, but we cut directly to the END of the battle, with Gawain defeated and at knifepoint. I’m always happy to take my hat off to a bold elision. Lancelot says he’s going to give Gawain a message for Arthur — and in another bold cut, this one more CITIZEN KANE than LAWRENCE, Wilde cuts to Gawain delivering the message, the framing putting him at just the angle we saw Lancelot at (different distance from camera though), so that he appears as Lancelot’s mouthpiece or surrogate. Neat.

Lancelot’s offer is to surrender himself for punishment, while Guinevere leaves the country. Instead, Arthur lets them all leave, except Guinevere, who is to return to him and not get burned, which is slightly unaccountable except as sheer vacillation.

Four shots: Lancelot looks down from the battlements at a glass painting of Arthur’s camp added to a real (but rear-projected) coastal landscape. Merlin escorts Guinevere through an impressive crowd scene with a glass-painting castle at the top. Then, after all that trouble, the close shot of M & G is an unconvincing rear-screen process shot, no doubt for some practical reason which couldn’t be helped on the day, but which really lets the sequence down. Guinevere’s POV, dollying towards her destiny, Arthur’s darkened tent — it feels like the forward POV dolly towards the execution posts in PATHS OF GLORY, and I bet that’s what Wilde had in mind.

An ellipse too far? Arthur is slain by Modred offscreen, which ought to have been a juicy scene (the film is quite long, admittedly, but CAMELOT would be much longer). In fact, everybody’s dead or dying — Merlin, Adrienne Corri, even Gawain’s one-lunging it after a sticky battle.

Without that shocking regicide, the final confrontation loses a lot of emotional power, I feel. It’s a large scale affair, though. Shot with long shadows on the ground — they must have been scared of losing the light — one of the shadows looks to be the camera crew, but suitably disguised with shrubbery and whatnot — there are no Wilhelm screams but one ludicrous squawk gets repeated several times in this film. Some mildly complicated strategy is attempted but not explained, so I wasn’t too clear on it. A horse steps on a dead man’s leg — I hope he was a dummy. Another helmet gets cloven open.

Editor Thom Noble repeats a shot of a fallen horse thrice — first almost subliminal, then longer, then still longer. I guess he’s going for a MARIENBAD effect but it doesn’t quite come off.

In the midst of this, or rather out of the midst, Lancelot manages to get Modred alone and they have a speedy (slightly undercranked) duel, ending with another ambitious gore effect — L chops right into M’s shoulder. Cue Wilhelm squawk again. To get the effect, poor Michael Meacham has to wear an absurd third shoulder, like an American football player’s padding, for his co-star and director to sink a sword into. OK, I admit I laughed.

It’s not clear what the political ramifications of this shoulder-chop will be, but Guinevere becomes a nun. When Jean W says “When first I was at the convent at Glastonbury” Fiona misheard it as “concert at Glastonbury.” So, there’s a parting forever scene. It’s not not moving. Well, all right, it is not moving. It seems perfunctory, and Lancelot falls in with the idea of his lover marrying Christ a bit too readily — the filmmakers don’t want to do a blasphemy. Again, ROBIN AND MARIAN is a more powerful treatment of this kind of thing because it has a director downright hostile to religion. But I’m always amazed by how much that film moves me, since the love story was entirely secondary in importance to its director. Maybe the focus being elsewhere allowed it to come out more strongly, or maybe it was the actors, who were not available to Cornel Wilde.

SWORD OF LANCELOT has enough invention for a film one-quarter its length, and it’s not all good invention, but some of it is. So I now consider Wilde a worthwhile subject for further examination.

Isadoras

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2023 by dcairns

Watching the young, talented and beautiful Vanessa Redgrave doing her best in CAMELOT made Fiona want to see her in ISADORA, whose ending shocked her as a child. It’s still a well-staged grisly finale. “Is Vanessa the first actress to win an Oscar for something where she gets her tits out?” she asked. Could be, But Karel Reisz’s film didn’t quite satisfy, so we then watched Ken Russell’s TV version of the life, Isadora Duncan, The Biggest Dancer in the World, already written about here.

ISADORA kind of vanished for a long time after its release, though clearly it showed up on telly where young Fiona caught it at a tender age. We could see why it had slipped out of view — Ken’s film manages to pack more cinematic punch, more insight, more lurid details, and, perhaps surprisingly, more character sympathy, into 65 minutes (feels more like 45) than Reisz’s can achieve in two hours and change. Weirdly, the pieces were made just two years apart, based in part on the same source (friend Sewell Stoke’s bio), and Reisz used Melvyn Bragg as scenarist — who also worked on Ken’s THE BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN and THE MUSIC LOVERS.

Russell’s film has Stokes himself narrating with queenly elegance, and his sympathetic tones help make Isadora, seemingly a narcissistic megalomaniac, come across appealingly, as at least a dedicated artist who was willing to put up with hardships. Reisz’s takes the coward’s way out by having Isadora narrate her past TO a fictional biographer, “Roger,” played by John Fraser in long-suffering gay best friend mode. This is not my favourite device: it’s awful in CHAPLIN and it’s pretty bad here, but at least they move about as they exposit.

ISADORA feels like Ken Russell Lite — it lacks the insane energy and tonal peculiarity (Russell depicts the death of the Duncan-Singer children with a single, static shot that looks like a Buster Keaton composition). When Vanessa first started talking, I said “This is going to take some getting used to,” but five minutes later I was accustomed to her American twang — she commits to it and it’s totally consistent. The nudity is both surprisingly full-on and very tasteful.

Jason Robards Jr had failed as a prospective movie star by the time he’d learned to be a commanding screen presence, so here he’s consigned to a supporting role as a husband, along with James Fox and one Zvonimir Crnko in a Boris Johnson fright wig.

“I don’t know why I should care,” I complained, midway. Sometimes, with movies, you know why you should care, but just don’t, can’t. This movie was so devoted to cataloging its heroine’s awfulnesses that it never found a reason for her to get interested. You CAN be attracted to characters who are not conventionally sympathetic, clearly, but Isadora’s various artistic quests never became things I could invest in, maybe because her terrible personality was standing in the way, maybe because the dances didn’t convince me I was in the presence of greatness. The classical music helped. The Maurice Jarre didn’t. Reisz shoots the dancing a little uncertainly, unable to decide between a Ken Russell handheld savagery or a Fred Astaire elegant wide. Admittedly, it’s a difficult job, there’s hardly any footage of ID dancing, and what exists is brief and uninspiring.

It’s a GREAT ending, except that a car crash as ending always seems arbitrary, however impressively horrific. Bragg and Reisz try to get out of that by folding it into a mystic vision of doom, which kind of works, whereas Ken incorporates his own version of Russian montage to bring all the life together in one fatal moment. Both good approaches, actually.

Preston Sturges’ mom, Mary d’Este, is a supporting character, so that’s good. Her bio might be better material — you’d get to have Aleister Crowley squaring off against young Preston, a kind of Dennis the Menace figure (US version).

ISADORA stars Guinevere; Lord Alfred Douglas; Chas; Howard Hughes; Billy Forner; Mrs. Wallis Simpson; Babe ODay; Officer on Carpathia (uncredited); Right Door Knocker(voice); Merlin; Burpelson AFB Defense Team Member; Poole’s Father; Second Officer of Shona; and Man with Flowers in Hospital (uncredited)

Isadora, The Biggest Dancer in the World stars Mrs Chasen; Brian Pern’s Father; Rev. Samuel Runt; Imre Toth; Olive Rudge; Sister Judith; Nosher; Gory the Gorilla; and Rex Ingram.