Archive for the MUSIC Category

Tomorrowsday #7: England’s Dreaming

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2018 by dcairns

For my previous piece on THE TIME MACHINE, see here. The comments are particularly good.

Newer thoughts based on yesterday’s viewing ~

A very Twilight Zone opening with clocks floating about in limbo, ticking at us. Which came first?

A sundial, various clocks, and then the sun rising on the main title itself — the sun, our primary temporal device, the great diurnal timekeeper — and weather changing behind the main titles. There’s a kind of simple poetry to it.

Then, with a Scottish air on the soundtrack to accompany Alan Young’s mild-mannered Filby (not a very Scottish name – Young lived in Edinburgh as a toddler and seems to have made his character Scottish as an act of sheer bravura), we join an unusual gathering. Scrooge McDuck, Gavin Elster, Bagheera and Dr. Teenage Frankenstein are impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Time Traveler, Pongo AKA Mitch Brenner AKA Boysie Oakes AKA Travis McGee AKA Daddy-O AKA WInston Churchill.

Come to think of it, Doris Lloyd, who plays the housekeeper, Mrs Watchett (absurdly on-the-nose name!) voiced a rose in the cartoon ALICE IN WONDERLAND, making this a very Disney gathering. Tom Helmore seems to be the only one without a credit for voice work, but then, you wouldn’t want to let criminal mastermind Gavin Elster loose in a world of cartoon physics and logic, would you. The risk of him getting a time machine is bad enough!

The warm relationship between Young and Taylor’s characters isn’t really there in the book. You don’t miss it — Wells has other fish to fry — but it seems of central importance to the movie, put over by Young’s sentimental Dickensian eunuchoid characterisation and Taylor’s soulfulness, which he didn’t really get to reveal elsewhere. Their relationship seems much more important than the love interest with Weena. It IS the love interest.

I love everything about this film — you’ll get no snarky comments from me on this one. The opening expository stuff is masterful: Fiona points out that Taylor’s he-man qualities in no way stop him convincing as a brilliant scientist, since the intensity and passion — and love — he applies to his onscreen work is so convincing. In other words, he uses leading man qualities of strength and romantic interest to be a scientist.

The design of the machine, first seen as a miniature, is exemplary, never bettered, though the gizmo in TIME AFTER TIME is graceful enough. Frankly, this is a design classic and the next time someone’s foolish enough to try to remake this they should just dust off the original chrono-jalopy. Samantha Mumba may also be available.

And I cannot fault the enchanting time travel, with Taylor transported into a timelapse and Puppetoon wonderland as he fast-forwards through the decades. One of screenwriter David Duncan’s most pleasing updates to Wells is to have the Traveler stop off in recent history, distressed by the world wars he encounters. The near future bit — set in the sixties — may be unsatisfactory from a production values standpoint, and Young struggles to play his own son as an old man in a silver jumpsuit with the dignity such a role obviously demands — but the idea behind it is so excellent and the pacing so breakneck it hardly matters.

(It’s hard to work out how Duncan could have written this — even with the terrific source material to go on — and also THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, THE LEECH WOMAN and even FANTASTIC VOYAGE. But he was also a magazine sci-fi writer and I’m curious what his fiction was like.)

Then Taylor meets the Eloi, or millennials as we call them, with their VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED hair, and a whole new story begins — the pacifist terms of the opening scenes are reversed as Taylor has to teach man’s descendants how to fight. At one point, Taylor’s VO refers to the Eloi as “little” but they don’t seem notably jockeyish here. In the book, Weena is four feet tall.

The idea that the air raid siren of the twentieth century has become a siren call, luring the Eloi to their doom, preying on some distant race memory that says, when the siren sounds, you have to go underground — outstanding, sir, outstanding! “It is all clear.”

I notice I’ve been calling the character George by the actor’s name, Taylor, perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable with the Time Traveler actually being HG Wells. I think it’s OK that the film hints at his identity but doesn’t nail it down. TIME AFTER TIME is a lovely, silly film, and the silliest thing is that it makes Wells its hero — but it gets lots of good mileage out of this goofy idea. Of course, Taylor is the name of another time-traveler, the hero of PLANET OF THE APES, whose parallels with this one suddenly strike me as enormous.

“There’s no future,” says time-bimbo Weena, anticipating John Lydon by seventeen years — or following him by thousands. I wonder if, rather than befriending the cattle of the future and fighting the farmers, Taylor should instead have tried reasoning with the Morlocks — eating people is wrong! But the Morlocks, despite their engineering abilities, seem pretty degraded too, as if, having reached a certain level of civilisation, have let their minds go to rot, mechanically maintaining a way of life they no longer understand.

This being an American production, the Eloi are cast with US actors, a hilarious bit of inadvertent satire. The Brits of the future have devolved into Yanks. Of course, one still thinks of the Morlocks as essentially Cockney. But it’s easy to forget we’re still in London — this post-Atomic yet prelapsarian pastoral, with the weather seemingly permanently balmy, presumably due to nuclear climate change of some kind, feels quite Californian. I’ve just read, in various sources, that John Wyndham in The Chrysalids and Leigh Brackett in The Long Tomorrow simultaneously invented the post-apocalyptic bucolic scenario in 1955, but here Wells has beaten them to it.

The talking rings are marvelous, with their posh BBC voices (the inevitable Paul Frees). Exposition is something a lot of writers fear, but it doesn’t have to be NOT entertaining.

“The rings have told us that story.”

“But you didn’t LISTEN. You didn’t LEARN anything!”

That’s just GREAT. There must be other good writing by David Duncan out there.

What do the Morlock machines DO? They don’t seem to relate to the provision of giant berries for the Eloi, which seems to be the main Morlock activity other than eating. I am forced to consider the possibility that they are tanning Eloi hides to make the Morlock’s leather nappies. A grim fate — picture Yvette Mimieux’s mortal remains, stretched around the loins of a slouching troglodyte. Not nice.

Fiona points out that the defleshed Eloi skeletons are mostly intact, like the Morlocks don’t tear them apart, they just pick them clean where they lie.

  

The Morlocks — based around Makeup man William Tuttle’s one design idea — aren’t pretty, or exactly convincing (you can see the fabric of their fake skin), but they’re unpleasant, alright. One dribbles blood onto his moobs, and there’s the very memorable time-lapse decomposition guy. A shame we never get to see him REcompose, but Taylor does, and he can’t take his eyes off it.

Russell Garcia’s music is very nice — who is he? I see he did ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT, but not much else in the movies. He seems to be paraphrasing Once I Had a Secret Love. Well, why not? There’s almost constant music in this movie, and it’s never annoying or inappropriate. This is kind of an opera. (I would totally watch a Time Machine opera.)

THE TIME MACHINE brought BBC1’s science fiction season to an end, and it was no anti-climax. Seven-year-old me couldn’t understand the stuff at the end about dragging the machine from across the lawn in 1895 to get it out of the sphinx in the year 802, 701 — I THOUGHT I’d understood the explanation of time and space at the beginning, but this was beyond me. I think my big brother patiently tried to explain it. Eight-year-old Fiona, a little ways off in Dundee, watching the same screening, processed it easily.

“Which three books would you have taken?” I LOVE this Desert Island Discs conclusion. And it’s entirely the invention of the movie. Wells gives his chrononaut a knapsack and a small camera.

With the Eloi as your starting point, what works of fact or fiction would be best suited to creating a new civilisation? I want your suggestions below.

 

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The Home Film Festival

Posted in Dance, Fashion, FILM, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2018 by dcairns

It was rainy last Sunday so I suggested we have our own film festival at home. Try it!

An eclectic program, decided at random. First I watched THE ORE RAIDERS, and blogged about it, then I popped on THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974), which always looked like awful tommyrot when on TV, but it’s Don Siegel therefore worth a try.Reader, THE BLACK WINDMILL is indeed awful tommyrot, but with impressive credits. TV pan-and-scan showings, which I recall seeing bits of, ruined it utterly — the pleasure is all in Siegel’s framing and blocking. Ousama Rawi, the former Mr. Rita Tushingham, shot it, beautifully — there’s some particularly nice anamorphic city lights. Antony Gibbs, of PETULIA and PERFORMANCE, cut it, less successfully than one might have hoped, though the neatest bit is a long take from a locked-off position as bad guys frame the hero with a nudie photo staged in his own bedroom. Roy Budd, of GET CARTER, provides a GET CARTER type score, with added tabla drums. Veteran costume designer Anthony Mendleson makes his leading man look ridiculous. I think there’s a good argument for leading men dressing conservatively, as Cary Grant suggested. They don’t date, and anyway, why would a spy dress like THIS?I suppose, in a crisis, he could always turn sideways and hide behind his necktie.

A distinguished cast includes cast includes Harry Palmer, Dr. Crippen, Empress Alexandra, Elizabeth Bathory, Sheik Abu Tahir and Maya the shapeshifter from Space 1999.

   

Fiona only joined that one midway, then insisted on some Bette Davis so we ran JEZEBEL, which we hadn’t seen in ages. I’ve often felt that the Germans in Hollywood had more racial sensitivity than native-born filmmakers, but although the black characters here all get bits of characterisation, and Eddie Anderson underplays for once, the movie never misses a chance at a cheap joke. When Henry Fonda says he feels haunted, wrinkled retainer Lew Paton stammers, “H-haunted?” in terror of spooks.

Still, the soapy story compels, and Bette is playing a perverse, willful, stroppy filly much like herself. She adored Wyler’s disciplinarian approach, and dialled down her excesses. When she reacts to the news that Fonda has married, her face registers a dozen emotions and calculations at lightning speed, subtly enough that you can believe smiling Margaret Lindsay doesn’t notice them, and visibly enough that you can see Fonda does.

Also great work from Richard Cromwell and, shockingly, George Brent, whose sleepy approach to acting here becomes electrifying when he’s given something of real interest to play. His character is supposed to be a dynamic old-school swashbuckler, and by playing it with indifference he actually adds a convincing edge to it. This guy is so dangerous because he doesn’t advertise it.

The cunning use of POV shots I noted in THE ORE RAIDERS is present here, as Bette, embracing Fonda, makes particular note of the stick he’s left by the door. All her behaviour in the ensuing scene is an attempt to provoke him into using it on her, which he refrains from, much to her disappointment. Did I mention Bette’s character is a touch perverse?

Co-writer John Huston was drafted in to direct a duel scene, and in a film full of smart grace notes, delivers one of the neatest, as the duellists take ten paces, clear out of frame and two puffs of smoke issue in from the edges of the screen, rendering the battle an abstraction, its outcome a mystery.

We followed this with another, contrasting Bette movie, LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (1972), which I’ve tackled at greater length elsewhere. Let’s just say that, cast as a kind of monster-goddess, Bette again is playing a character remarkably like herself: indefatigable.

Short subject: PIE, PIE, BLACKBIRD with Nina Mae McKinney and the Nicholas Brothers when they were small. She does an adorable rasping trumpet honk thing with her voice, an orchestra plays inside a giant pie, and the Bros. dance so hard, everybody turns into a skeleton. Will, if anybody was going to cause that to happen, it would be them.

It’s very funny to me that the props man couldn’t find a child skeleton — there was, it would seem, little call for such items — so he’s removed the shin-bones of an adult to make it dance shorter. Incredible to think that young Harold performed all those moves without knees.

Then MIRAGE, based on regular Shadowplayer Daniel’s recent recommendation. Sixties Edward Dmytryk, when he’s supposed to be washed up, but there’s some interesting stuff afoot, not all of it pulling in the same direction, but still. Stars Atticus Finch, Felix Unger Oscar Madison, Anne Frank’s sister Margot, Willie Loman’s son Biff, Gaetano Proclo and Joe Patroni. Which is to say, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy are reunited after CHARADE, which was also scripted by Peter Stone, and Matthau and Jack Weston are together, prefiguring A NEW LEAF.

Stone’s script is witty as usual, perhaps too witty — there’s a good sense of Kafkaesque nightmare going on in the crazy amnesia/conspiracy plot, but you have Gregory Peck being all Gregory Peckory, stiff and bashful, and then making quips, and the sense of waking nightmare rather deserts one.

BUT —

Dmytryk, a former editor, has discovered direct cutting — he’s seen MARIENBAD, in fact — or maybe the previous year’s THE PAWNBROKER. As Peck thinks back on baffling recent events, or retrieves fragments of memory from his earlier, lost-time spell, we cut in hard to snippets of dialogue from earlier or brief flashes of action. Best of all is a subway scene where the sound of the train continues unabated over glimpses of Walter Abel falling out of a skyscraper. Then he cuts to a watermelon hitting the ground and bursting, something that’s only been mentioned earlier. It’s a non-diegetic watermelon, perhaps the first of its race.

It’s dazzling and disturbing and would still look pretty nifty in a modern film. What makes it sellable to the great public of 1964 is that the odd technique is tied directly to the plot gimmick. Anyway, it’s very nice indeed, and makes you realise how conservative most cutting still is. Given Dmytryk’s late-career wallowing in turgid airport novel stuff, I wish he’d enlivened his work with this kind of monkey business a lot more. For a guy who’d sold out, who had to shore up his sense of self-worth with spurious justifications, accomplishing a nice piece of work like this must have been some kind of relief.

Mother of Gels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2018 by dcairns

Inspired by our enjoyable viewing of SUSPIRIA in Bologna, we looked at Dario Argento’s follow-up, INFERNO (1980), which I hadn’t seen since around 1989, and which Fiona had never seen. I mainly remembered the bad bits, in particular the terrible cats-and-rats sequence in which the creepy bloke from MARIENBAD perishes in a heavily rodent-infested Central Park, crying, “The rats are eating me!” And the shifty butler overacting. And the crap skeleton saying “You mean you still don’t understand?” which it turns out doesn’t quite happen.

What DID happen was remarkable — by sheer coincidence we put the film on during a lunar eclipse AND a thunderstorm, and both a lunar eclipse and a thunderstorm are featured in the movie. And then our Tonkinese cat, Momo, who never watches television usually, started acting very strange during the cats-and-rats scene, prowling around the room and looking behind the TV in search of the source of all the mammalian vocals.

(I don’t now why Argento always has these animal atrocities in his films, they’re rarely convincing. The glove puppet seeing-eye dog in SUSPIRIA, and here, the cats being thrown at Daria Nicolodi (then Mrs. Argento), with the animal handlers’ hands actually visible onscreen, and then the rats that mainly just look confused. And none of it has anything to do with the “plot”. Maybe this helps: composer Simon Boswell remarked, “Dario is the only person I know who is regularly attacked by his own cats.” )

“I hope the house doesn’t burn down,” I said, after all these other coincidences. After the film ended, we became conscious of very loud engine noise coming from outside. We had the windows wide open due to the heat wave. I looked outside and saw three fire engines.

Building on the mythos invented for SUSPIRIA, Argento introduces the architect Varelli, responsible for constructing three witch houses –one of these burned down in the previous movie but the other two, an art deco palaces in New York and a creepy library in Rome, are encountered here. We seem to be following in the footsteps of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, while anticipating GHOSTBUSTERS.

It’s Take Your Cat to Class Day, didn’t you know?

One thing that’s missing amid the supersaturated colours and moderne design is an interesting central character. Jessica Harper had worked wonders giving humanity to Argento’s sanguinary excercises du style, and poor Leigh McCloskey and his Action Man mustache aren’t up to the job, but then he never gets much to do and the movie keeps abandoning him so it can show some minor character getting stabbed up or defenestrated in flames. It’s not really McCloskey’s fault.

I did come around to Argento’s demented dialogue, though. A lot of what seems like sheer silliness or ineptitude may be entirely deliberate. My friend Alex had spoken enthusiastically of the bit in SUSPIRIA where Udo Kier says something like, “Of course there’s no such thing as witches. My friend will explain all that to you,” and then his friend appears as if by magic and says, “Yes, there are witches. It’s a house full of witches,” and Udo just smiles and nods as if this is what he’d expected to hear.

Why is that good? First, consider this quote from the Maestro ~

“I’m searching for panic, which is at another level to terror, it penetrates even further. If one wishes to compare panic to fear, we can say that fear is a 38-39 degree fever, while panic is 41 degrees. Therefore, it’s delirium”.

Now apply your memories of fever to this dialogue from INFERNO’s awkward elevator conversation ~

Nurse: “His name is Professor Arnold, he’s been quite ill for many years. And you, what do you do?”

McCloskey: “Oh, I’m a student. Musicology.”

“Oh, wonderful! A professor of toxicology. We know two other young men who -“

“No, no, it’s not toxicology. Musicology. It’s got nothing to do with medicine.”

“What is it then?”

[rather brilliant confused pause by McCloskey] “The study of music.”

“Oh yes, your sister’s involved in rather strange work too.”

“Strange? No, she writes poetry.”

“Oh. Yes, a pastime especially suited for women. Goodbye!”

Let’s just agree that this is, in fact, brilliant. McCloskey being prey to various unexplained ailments in the course of the “story” allows us to see this as a fever-dream dialogue whose demented improbabilities open portals to altered states of conversation. It makes us feel out of it. The words are wrong, the attitudes are wrong, and the voices don’t seem to emanate from the characters’ mouths. We’re sweating through a heat wave right now, so that only added to the feeling of roiling confusion.

Then there’s the strange superimposed titles, ostensibly giving us time and place as these things normally do ~

   

But, brilliantly, April (the cruellest month) has no story significance at all, and the film’s insistence that this is “the same night in April” is REALLY wacky, since the character above just got off the phone with her brother in Rome — obviously it’s the same night, since we’re in the middle of  continuous transatlantic conversation. Evidently, Argento’s mind doesn’t work along conventional narrative tracks, as if that wasn’t obvious from all the cobwebby stuffed crocodiles and gratuitous Verdi, and Keith Emerson’s score that seems to fold together Jerry Goldsmith’s OMEN theme with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But maybe, just maybe, Argento understands normal human thought well enough to send it crashing off the rails with deliberately skewed narrative devices and exchanges.

It’s a theory, anyway.

        

(Poor old McCloskey, come to New York to investigate his sister’s disappearance, just like Kim Hunter in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, never does find out what became of her. Would having her corpse pop out at him sometime be too much to ask?)