Archive for the MUSIC Category

One and a Half

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2018 by dcairns

Paul Mazursky could never figure out why his second feature as director, ALEX IN WONDERLAND, was so unpopular. True, it has good things in it. But it has no reason to exist. There’s a kind of hubris to Mazursky, an erratic minor talent (not a knock: I LOVE erratic minor talents, we need more of them), in essentially remaking Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF from the viewpoint of a Hollywood filmmaker with one hit under his belt. Just as he’d later remake JULES ET JIM as WILLIE AND PHIL and BOUDOU SAVED FROM DROWNING as DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS. And isn’t HARRY AND TONTO kind of a spin on UMBERTO D?

AIW seems to be composed almost entirely of gratuitous non-scenes, people hanging out and not progressing anything. Whereas OTTO E MEZZO has this looming set and this looming start date, the urgent knowledge that Guido MUST make a film, even if the film has deserted him. In ALEX, Donald Sutherland wanders about being weirdly surly and doesn’t agree to make anything. Mazursky himself plays a scene which lets us look inside MGM circa 1969/70, which is fascinating to me, but the scene itself has no real dramatic motor or satiric bite. Time and again he surrounds Sutherland with grotesques and weirdos and Sutherland still comes out of the scene seeming like HE’S the one being satirised. It’s strange, whenever I’ve seen Sutherland as a hippy, he’s been the most passive-aggressive and obnoxious guy onscreen. And yet Mazursky loved him. Was it mutual?

Fellini turns up — the result of the most assiduous wooing by Mazursky. He wanted the maestro in his film just to prove that he wasn’t ACCIDENTALLY remaking 8 1/2. And that is literally all the scene does.

Ellen Burstyn plays the director’s wife and reportedly modelled her perf on Betsy Mazursky. Which is worrying, because the marital conversations are all fraught, with Sutherland snippy and Burstyn frowning, confused and browbeaten. And yet Mazursky managed to stay married to the same woman from his early days of obscurity, past his huge first hit, and beyond this, his huge first flop, and on to eventual death decades later. That has to be a successful marriage, and by Hollywood standards a wondrous one. If you die married, it was a success, right?

Mazursky set out to shoot dream sequences as pastiches of other directors’ work, but they all seem like Fellini to me. One, with Jeanne Moreau and a fairy coach, might be Jacques Demy, but confusingly she’s singing tunes from JULES ET JIM.

I have a photo of myself with Jeanne Moreau and it’s a lot like this: she doesn’t look as good as you’d like, and I look really fatuously pleased with myself.

The big Vietnam fantasy is pretty impressive, and could have made a simple point well: by restaging Nam on Hollywood Boulevard, the film could be asking “How would YOU like it?” But Mazursky throws in Sutherland grieving his murdered (in fantasy only) family — a rehearsal for his DON’T LOOK NOW angst-face — men in tuxes dancing on burning cars, some random guy seemingly raping some woman — the camera crane with a Sutherland doppelgänger directing the whole thing — pedestrians going past as if nothing were happening — a gaggle of Hare Krishnas — and Hooray for Hollywood on the soundtrack, and then Jeanne Moreau passes through, still singing…

Mazursky has made the small blunder of thinking her can do what Fellini does (even CANDY has a passable Fellini pastiche) but the far greater mistake of thinking he understands HOW and WHY Fellini does what he does. Which nobody understands.

Still — we get some nice images…




A Mess o’ Flowers

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2018 by dcairns

Was talking to my first year students about editing. Showed them a robbery scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE. Probably didn’t say as much as I could’ve, but the clip was well received, and the first question, from two separate sources at once, was “What’s the name of that film again?” because they immediately wanted to SEE the whole thing.

Which has to be good. And if you’re shocked that they didn’t already know it, remember they’re young, they haven’t had the chance to see everything.

(If you want to get angry at anyone, the BBC and Channel 4 would be suitable targets for their willfully falling down on the job of introducing their audience to great cinema.)

I introduced the film’s stars with their names and the words “And the Oscar goes to…” because that is likely to remain the principal recognition factor for those actors for a little while, but they WILL live it down…

Why this scene? Well, Dede Allen’s cutting of the robbery itself is masterful, with the tautness of each movement, the sparse soundtrack a series of steps and clicks and thuds with dead air between, creating a sense of a tense but very METHODICAL operation being undertaken.

(Gene Hackman was recognised as someone who was grumpy to Wes Anderson.)

And then the car chase — the music being an existing recording rather than a specially made score, simply dropped into place and cut in and out of as required. The fast-and-loose continuity, designed to get a sense of life and jeopardy and velocity into the ponderous movements of aged vehicles. I didn’t have to point out the moment when one camera operator jerks sideways as a jalopy gets a little TOO close for comfort (Objects in Wide Angle Lens May Be Closer Than They Appear).

And the recklessly bold interruption of the chase with cutaways to the bank where witnesses are being interviewed by the papers: sudden silent static shots interrupting the flow of the chase with TOTAL RUDENESS, bringing things to a momentary standstill, seemingly slamming the brakes on every aspect of the tone and pace the sequence is otherwise trying to achieve. And yet, it’s absolutely right. Because the filmmakers have decided, for the sake of the story, that robbing banks is exciting and fun. And the bank scenes are hilarious.

“There I wuz, staring into the face of DEATH.”

“All I can say is, they did right by me, an’ I’m bringin’ me a mess o’ flowers to their funeral.”

By the second interruption, it’s no longer an interruption but part of the peculiar rhythm of the piece, which behaves like a game of musical chairs. The brutal treatment of the music is probably the main survival of the early notion of Jean-Luc Godard directing the picture.

Vlad Songs Say So Much

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome to the final installment of THE VLAD TAPES, my commentary on Francis Ford Coppola’s commentary on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. I was several installments into this before it struck me that BSD was the first movie I saw at the cinema with Fiona. It wasn’t a date — there was a producer present — but it was the start of something. And the first time I saw Fiona wearing glasses. And at the end of the movie she said, “Now, we can’t discuss it until we’re outside,” which I thought very disciplined. Normally, now, Fiona launches into the post-match analysis as the credits are starting their rise, so I think maybe she was just showing off.

We begin with an elaborate explanation of the ongoing plot from Uncle Francis, which I’ll omit.

This is, you know, a glass shot, or some old-fashioned studio effect.

It would be nice if he was sure which.

I forget even now watching what we had built and what we added… I think my mind was going at this point.

And when did that start, exactly?

You know it was a lot of stuff to shoot in a relatively short time frame… this is for sure a glass shot, the road is real and then the rest is painted.

I guess with the passage of time, it’s less easy to tell when the film is being deliberately retro and when it’s just using the standard techniques of 1992. Plenty of films still used glass shots then, I think. But the lack of overt CGI certainly works against it dating.

And it’s snowing at Castle Sitting Down Dracula! They should show this movie every Christmas.

You begin to wonder why all movies look alike, and it’s because the solutions to problems are done a certain way and when you’re making a movie you have that stunt guy and he says “You fall off a horse this way,” and that’s the way they fall off the horse in every movie… I mean, good reason, it’s probably the safe way…

Wait, what are we saying, again? The real geniuses devise more painful and dangerous ways to fall off horses. That’s probably about right, I guess.

but it’s sort of an undertow when you make an industrial film, which this is, to do it the same way they’re used to doing it…

OK, yes, I get you. And it’s true. But to break through that you do need to offer a better way, don’t you?

If you have a photographer and you ask him to do something stupid or unconventional, he’s worried […] what his peers are gonna say, is he gonna be laughed at, at the Photographers’ Ball when they all get together…

Is there a Photographer’s Ball? Was Ballhaus scared of what they’d all say at the ball? I love this idea. I love the image of a shamed Ballhaus, his peers all laughing down their viewfinders at him, waving their light meters scornfully.

My daughter Sophia does it another way, she’s a tiny woman, she’s not a, she’s a very petite woman, very sweet and gentle, but she’s just hard as nails underneath, so she’ll just say “I don’t want to do it that way.”

Whereas Francis would kick holes in doors. We live in less romantic times.

Van Helsing uses a Gurkha knife to decapitate the brides of Dracula:

So much for the three Brides of Dracula, you cut off their heads and they’re finished.

True. But you needn’t feel so superior about it.

I feel a bit sorry for the brides. They seem to be conscious, but unable to move because it’s daylight, and here comes this gallumphing taff actor to decapitate them. Horrible! Think of it from their point of view and it’s the scariest scene in the picture.

Animated POV again —

That was to show that Mina had the pixilated vision so she didn’t need the binoculars.

Are you implying she’s squiffled or something?

It is remarkable that this chase has the variety it has, because it’s all shot in the same place.

Chases don’t work so well in the studio. What Uncle Francis is really saying is that this is pretty good considering it’s the wrong way of doing it.

But actually, it’s really quite accomplished. It’s the fight that comes next that’s kind of messy.

These blue rings of fire I do believe were done on an optical printer

Francis feels the in-camera tricks have a more organic feel. Possibly true. I like how they’re the same rings — positively the same rings — as seen when Mephistopheles appears in Murnau’s FAUST and the false Maria is brought to life in METROPOLIS.

Much of these shots are done by Roman because there were so many shots to get, a slew of them […] we were like a two-man team doing these things.

The epic battle just seems like a lot of thrashing about. The occasional wide shots, like this one, aren’t terribly impressive. It’s very much a sequence made by the cutter, using a lot of just-adequate material, and it never gets very involving or exciting, despite the music and the race-the-sunset concept.

Keanu seems slightly more on top of his accent at last. Like he’s delivering the lines, not the other way around.

And for the large, large, large part, all these lines are out of the book.

If Keanu Reeves swapped parts with Alex Winter as the author of The Vampyre in HAUNTED SUMMER, which film would get better and which would get worse? I think they might be about the same. Still GREAT.

And then, alas, there’s a series of morphs taking Gary through his previous incarnations, though he skips the big friendly dog and the green fart stage. Remember how excited everybody got about morphing for about five minutes? (David Lynch, on why he didn’t use morphs in LOST HIGHWAY: “It just seems like everyone and his uncle’s doin’ it.”) Lap dissolves would have been more in keeping with Roman Coppola’s old-school approach to the other effects, maybe with a slight, subtle morphing assistance. It’s the one jarringly fashionable effect.

I remember I showed it to my friend George Lucas, and he looked it and he said, “I think she should cut off his head,” and I said, “Well, that’s pretty disgusting,” he says, “Yeah, well, that’s the greatest act she could give him, to give him the peace and the moment of once again being taken to God’s breast can only be given to him by cutting off his head,” and I said, “Yeah, I hadn’t quite thought of it that way,” and I did it. […] George had thought that to REALLY be sure that he’d never be a vampire again… I thought it was pretty CLEAR… I did it the sparks went in, the thing went through his heart, like a stake through the heart, George says “She should cut off his head, that’s the greatest act of love she could do,” I said “Okay! If they don’t get it with the stake through the heart, we’ll cut off his head. Pretty startling thing to do.”

“I don’t think he should have listened to George,” says Fiona.

I point out that they had to decapitate all the other vampires. Van Helsing was very clear about that.

“I suppose so. You can’t have a special rule just for Gary Oldman, much as you would like to.”

Still, given all that’s happened since, maybe a good general rule would be, “Never listen to George Lucas.”

I guess Gary got to keep the head, but did they also give him the nipple from earlier?

Which actor of our times is closest to being able to assemble a full silicone Frankenstein monster of himself from all the bits he’s had done in different movies?

And such is the end. They go off to heaven as lovers always do. Paola and Francesca, Dracula and Elisabeta

Bert and Ernie.

Although waitaminute, Mina’s not dead, so can the woman she’s the reincarnation of be going off to heaven with Gary? Seems a tricky one. It’s kind of like the polygamy we have to assume exists in Heaven for all the people who were widowed and remarried and then died…

and on and on, the end.


The credits are rolling but Francis shows no signs of stopping.

My idea was to make it with young people and to make it more romantic and in fact SEXY, the Brides of Dracula and the various scenes with Sadie and then combining eroticism when Mina begins to be infected by the blood of the vampire, she gets to be sort of provocatively sexy, and in fact she was pretty sexy in that scene with Anthony Hopkins, you know, she brings him down to her level and almost exalts [sic] in the fact that she has him stoked up.

Well, it is Bram STOKER’S — oh wait, I already made that joke.

So it was supposed to be a more sexy version. I don’t feel it’s so scary a version. Maybe a little bit.


It’s my take on Jim Hart’s script, which I guess is all a director can do.

Short of getting a better writer.

I was able to achieve a final — hopefully final! — freedom from the film industry as an industry. As I continue now, as I speak to you, it’s 2006 and I am just recently sixty-seven years old, or as I like to call it, fifty-seventeen, and I decided to do what I always felt I wanted to do, which is to be an amateur

Which is lovely. And then he compares himself to Borodin, because Borodin was a doctor in his professional life and a composer on the side, and Tchaikovsky, because, well it kind of breaks down there. Maybe Francis likes hot baths.

I hope you have enjoyed these thoughts

“Oh we certainly have!” says Fiona.

Thank you so much.

You’re very welcome INDEED.

It’s not over until the thin Aberdonian lady sings, so here’s Annie Lennox. Remember not to start discussing the movie until she’s done.