Archive for the Painting Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Ass Backwards

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by dcairns

I always liked Leo McCarey’s description, in his Peter Bogdanovich interview (contained in the book Who the Devil Made It?, highly recommended) of coming up with the plot of Laurel & Hardy’s WRONG AGAIN during the course of a brief phone call. There was a reproduction of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy on his wall, and he spitballed the notion that the original gets stolen and the boys hear something of this, and see a horse called Blue Boy and think that’s the stolen item, and try to return it to its “owner.” And he leans out the window but can’t see the horse because of an awning, and thinks they have his painting, and asks them to “take him right in the house.” And later asks them to “put him on the piano.”

(Laurel & Hardy’s intertitles are made of cheap but durable cladding.)

The boys think this is pretty strange, but after all, millionaires are notoriously eccentric, right? Ollie even invents a hand gesture, a cupping accompanied by a firm twist, suggesting how the very rich like to have everything the reverse way round.

This philosophical theory will later be helpful to Stan when he puzzles over a strange piece of statuary. In fact it was once a normal figure, but Ollie shattered it in three pieces, and put it back together wrong. Being a Southern gentleman, he was unable to handle the statue’s bare behind with his bare hands, so wrapped it in his jacket. The result, ladies and gentlemen, is plain to see.

But not plain to Stan, who puzzles over if for 44 seconds in an extraordinary performance which seems to cycle through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, but in the wrong order. He begins with mild surprise and segues into puzzlement. He seems to be adding up the constituent parts to check they are numerically correct. They are, but something is definitely wrong. BARGAINING.

So he’s puzzled some more, and then a sort of false illumination hits him and he becomes, momentarily, very happy. I don’t think Stan knows why he’s smiling, the gladness is just like a hat he’s trying on. Maybe this is how he should react… will everything make sense if he’s happy about it? DENIAL.

Then, just as suddenly, he’s absolutely scandalised. This is an outrage! It’s as if the nude statue has somehow become twice as nude, just to insult him, personally. ANGER.

And back to BARGAINING/DENIAL. Let’s try this from another angle. It might make more sense from over here. Stan is almost moving into the role of an innocent tourist confronting a work of surrealism or, better, cubism, in a gallery.

But this doesn’t help, and finally Stan seems stumped. There are the right number of parts but, like Stan’s thought processes, they are disordered. Nothing seems adequate to explaining this obscurely terrible situation. DEPRESSION.

Finally, he remembers Ollie’s wise words and descriptive hand gesture, and a new happiness descends on him. The awful statue can be explained by the odd nature of the homeowner. Millionaires like normal things reversed. ACCEPTANCE.

Ollie’s fresh smile is now the satisfied bliss of true understanding. But Stan doesn’t leave us on this note. He prepares to leave, back to the plot, but sneaks a last glance at the offending derrière. A queasy feeling comes over him. His joy drains away. Yes. This might all be explicable from an aesthetic-psychological viewpoint, his expression tells us, but it is still deeply screwy. These millionaires are just wrong.

Now, let’s get that horse on the piano.

 

 

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Every Speliologist for Himself and God Against All

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting, Science with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2017 by dcairns

I tweeted that Werner Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS was maybe the best 3D movie ever, but maybe I should have said “best USE of 3D”?

I watched this movie with a colossal grin. Almost every shot did something delightful to my brain.

I’ve been waiting years to see it in 3D. Edinburgh Filmhouse took awhile to install a 3D system, and in the end went for a weird one where you need your glasses to be charged with electricity — I think this had something to do with them not wanting to install a 3D screen which would have compromised the picture quality of every flat film shown. And I think the Cameo installed such a screen.

Anyhow, when the Filmhouse installed 3D I was looking forward to finally being able to see Herzog’s film as it was meant to be seen. I’d avoided seeing it flat. But then Filmhouse decided “Our audience doesn’t like 3D” and never showed it. Anyhow, happy ending, they finally did, and got a pretty good-sized audience. Imagine if they’d shown it when the film was new.

But the Filmhouse system has drawbacks. You can’t be sure the glasses are working until the film starts. Fiona’s didn’t, and she had to run and change them. Mine conked out ten minutes before the end and I spent a chunk of the film’s climax running around the whole outside of the auditorium looking for a staff member to open the shutters and release a fresh pair… However, in spite of all that, this was still maybe my favourite 3D experience.

We weren’t totally uncritical of the movie. Fiona pointed out that Herzog kind of distorted what one of his interviewees was saying in order to justify his title. We don’t know that the Chauvet cave paintings have anything to do with dreams. Sure, the nameless cro-magnons who painted the paintings probably dreamed about ibex and horses, but probably the reason they painted them is that they SAW them regularly. Herzog also goes off on a mad spree to a nearby nuclear power station where the water from the coolers has produced a microclimate in which, we are told, albino crocodiles have arisen.

Herzog, of course, can’t help seeing this as some kind of allegory for something. But Herzogian allegories, like albino crocodiles, are strange, mutant beasts. Britta in the TV show Community helpfully defines an allegory as “a thought wearing another thought’s hat” (which is lovely because her definition is itself a kind of allegory) but Herzog’s thoughts always seem to mistake their wives for hats. Like the dwarfs who started small or the man who pulled a ship up a mountain, they never quite translate one thing into another without a lot of leftover bits sticking out. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to see the pallid reptiles, and stereoscopically too.

Also: our friend Donald was particularly scornful of the way, when a scientist suggests simply listening to the sound of the cave, Herzog can’t resist almost immediately fading up a heartbeat and music. A relatively rare failure of the poetic imagination from the maker of KASPAR HAUSER.

The 3D is gorgeous. I even found it enhanced by the low-quality video from Herzog’s recce. As has often been remarked, the film focusses on flat line drawings, but drawn on the contours of curving walls, so a lot of the movie is looking at fairly subtle spacial gradations — a nice, tasteful use of the medium. But Herzog also had a guy demonstrating cro-magnon weaponry, who sticks a spear right in our faces. Subtlety is most effective when contrasted with its opposite. Ask Ken Russell.

And those cave walls are sometimes very curvy indeed. One daubing of a woman with possibly an animal head encircles a chubby stalactite so Herzog has to stick his camera on a pole to see around it — he’s not allowed off a walkway in the cave — like the time travelers in Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. Leaving the path could disturb the past.

Herzog even has fun with the superimposed titles which identify his interviewees. I was amused by the floating subtitles in AVATAR (I guess the filmmaker has to choose a specific depth for them, they simple CAN’T be flat, but it was funny when, in an O.S. shot the foreground shoulder was closer than the subtitle. Don’t move left, Neytiri, we won’t be able to read what Eytukan is saying! When Herzog arrays two interviews at different distances, he does the same with their titles. he’s a puckish fellow, is Werner.

We also get drone shots of the surrounding countryside, but the handheld traversing of narrow paths is even better. Everything about the Cro-magnon lifestyle and environment, it seems, is perfectly suited to 3D, or else to Werner’s eye. I’ve noticed that filmmakers tend to get better at 3D on their second try — I hope we get another in-depth outing from Herzog.

Pretty as Paint

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2017 by dcairns

So, I picked up Twiggy’s autobiography, just to see what she had to say about Ken Russell and THE BOY FRIEND. She seems to have enjoyed the experience.

Amusing story ~ they’re restaging the famous girls-dancing-on-plane gag from FLYING DOWN TO RIO and Ken decides he wants the biplane to be silver. This will involve painting it overnight.

But the next morning the plane is white. The man responsible explains that there was no silver paint to be had and so they thought Ken would be OK with white.Ken explodes, which was one of his talents. “Do you know who I am?” Twiggy quotes him as saying. Usually, the answer to that question ought to be “An arsehole?” but here it would be more properly rendered as “Mad genius enfant terrible scourge of the boring and unambitious British cinema,” perhaps adding “and a man who very much wants a silver biplane.” Ken settled for “I’m the director of this fucking picture!”

The man is sent off to get silver paint. He comes back with a lot of little eggcup-sized cans, the kind sold in model shops. About 500 of them, in a van. The only silver paint to be had in London. (The ’70s were crap, in some ways.) You ever used that stuff? Tiny tins, and you can never get it to come out silver. The idea of painting an entire plane with it…

I love the art department, as I may have mentioned before. A can-do art department marks the difference between an efficient, fun shoot, and a slog.

I always remember this story from Ed Naha’s The Making of Dune. David Lynch has invented a scene not in the script (and it’s HIS script!) in which Kyle McLachlan trains his Fremen warriors to destroy a rotating black cube thing with sheer lung power. I can’t, off-hand, recall if the scene made it into the finished cut, which always seemed most lacking in what should be the second half of act 2. Suddenly it’s the climax!(The scene exists, but the “box” Naha describes is a pyramid. Did they reshoot it with a different Platonic solid shape-thing?)

Anyhow, Lynch has twenty minutes left to get the shot when he notices a speck of white on the black cube. He calls for an art department guy. The guy walks up to the blemished space cube and delivers a daub of black paint from a paint-pot.

Lynch is dumbfounded. “Now I have brush-strokes up there!” he exclaims.

Lynch’s eyes dilate even further as the worker returns with a ladder and proceeds to repaint the entire top of the black box… with a brush.

“OK?”

Lynch stares at the box. “No! Not OK! It looks fifty times worse! One hundred times worse! Can anyone see if they can find a can of black spray paint?”

One feels for him. It’s a scenario right out of some Hollywood spoof, with the director (jodhpurs and megaphone) driven to apoplexy by some incompetent underling (Marion Davies, Peter Sellers), jumping up and down and tearing his hair out. Or as Lynch confides in the documentary Lynch, while shooting part of INLAND EMPIRE with an inexperienced team, “You wonder what kinda heavy burden Einstein musta carried. Surrounded by fuckin’ assholes.” It’s also a lot like Lynch’s scenes of Kafkaesque bumbling accomplices: there’s a good filmmaking one in INLAND EMPIRE. The first is probably Paul (a favourite Lynch name: DUNE was meant to be) in ERASERHEAD, the buzzer-happy pencil manufacturer.

A little later, in Naha’s book: “That guy? Our painter? He’s usually very good.”