Archive for the Politics Category

Maids and Monsters

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by dcairns

Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius (OS) tempts Boris Karloff’s monster with a bottle of House of Lords Scotch Whisky in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I mean, why waste good gin? I guess the publicity slogan for that beverage would have to be “Gets you drunk as a lord.” Although I actually like the House of Lords this week because they’re fucking with Brexit. The Brexiteers are outraged, a lot of people belatedly noticing that we have this antiquated branch of government and it isn’t democratic. Well, I guess that’s it’s purpose, to be undemocratic, to stop democracy propelling us off cliffs. I rather doubt it’s the best way of doing this, but the paralysis it produces, as with America’s three-branch system, CAN be a cause for gratitude sometimes.

Other things noticed in BRIDE: the movie is famously disrespectful to its original, recasting Elizabeth from an American blonde to a brunette English teenager, and dropping the stupid old Baron with the unsightly thing on his neck without explanation. Actor Frederick Kerr had died in the interim from causes unconnected with his unsightly neck-thing, and Pretorius congratulates Henry on having inherited the title, but the absence goes otherwise unremarked. One of my students suggested that at the end of the first film, where he’s drinking a toast to the house of Frankenstein, and all the maids are giggling — they’ve poisoned his champagne.

 

All the pretty, giggling maids have disappeared by the sequel too — replaced by screeching harridan Una O’Connor. Looks like Elizabeth has taken over running the household already…

 

But, despite playing fast and loose with what we would call “series continuity,” the sequel has one delicious call-back I hadn’t noticed before: once the monster learns to speak, his first words to his creator are a very emphatic “SIT – DOWN!” with a downward wave of the hands. Well, in FRANKENSTEIN, the first words we hear Henry speak to his creation are “Come in,” but the second are “Sit down,” with the exact same gesture. The monster is very purposely letting Henry know that the giant tar-spreader’s shoe is on the other foot now.

Another big-screen discovery: the monster’s decision to let Henry live at the end comes out of left field, a change of character seemingly unmotivated by anything. But it was not always thus: as Henry runs off into the night with Elizabeth, he can still be seen in the exploding lab, a startling feat of bilocation ~

(Pretorius and the Bride are on the right in white, the monster is scarcely visible between the two electrical towers, but Henry is vividly pressed against a wall screen left, about to be crushed along with everyone else by the falling roof.)

Henry is one lucky fellow — reanimated after a fatal fall in the first film, re-re-animated under slightly different circumstances in the second, and then saved from exploding by a last-minute reshoot. Universal appear to have been convinced their audience wanted Frankenstein to live. I’m not sure they were right (and I’m sure the crowd would have cheered if Karloff had found time to throttle Una O’Connor). Possibly a third film was already anticipated, for which a mad scientist would be required. Sadly, Colin Clive would have passed away by the time that happened, leaving his character to die as his father had done, vanishing between films, through a crack in the continuity.

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Porn Again

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2018 by dcairns

Probably we’ll be revisiting a few Milos Forman films, in the wake of his passing, but the one I dropped in the player was THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT, mainly because we hadn’t seen it since it came out. It’s still very amusing and affecting — Courtney Love provides the untrained quality Forman admired as Althea Flynt, and Woody Harrelson brings the more actorly professionalism, creating the perfect blendship. It comes across as a genuinely sweet relationship between two filthy people in love. And Harrelson’s brother Brett is really good, he should do more.

Since then, screenwriters Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski have brought us The People Versus O.J. Simpson on TV plus several more biopics of Great American Weirdos. including Forman’s follow-up MAN IN THE MOON. I think this is one of their most successful attempts at character portraiture in their specialised sub-genre, the one in which character is in constant flux and motivation is often inexplicable, two challenges which would derail most writers.

Away from the human element — the movie does pretty well with its mercurial madman hero — it’s a defence of free speech, and the movie is effective enough here, but sort of slanted.

Firstly, feminist criticism of porn doesn’t exist in this film, so Flynt’s legal opponents are bluenoses and creeps like Jerry Falwell. This is fair enough in narrative terms, since those guys threatened the real-life Flynt more than attacks by Andrea Dworkin. But it leaves out a whole aspect of the subject, which could potentially enrich the movie. Ed Norton — playing a composite of all Flynt’s actual lawyers through the tears — yet appearing in the end-of-film summary as if he were a real person — talks about finding Hustler magazine distasteful, and Harrelson’s Flynt himself says, “The most I’m guilty of is BAD TASTE!” — a good line — but might there have been room for a more nuanced consideration? The weird effect is that the movie seems to take place in an alternative version of the 60s, 70s and 80s in which feminism never happened.

You can make up your own pearl necklace joke, if you absolutely have to.

Secondly, that analysis of what’s actually in Hustler is limited by censorship — the movie can’t actually show a real centrefold from the magazine, because vaginas are bad. So it can get a lot of good comedy value out of showing prudes at a fundraiser gaping in horror at unseen images, but it can’t let the other audience, us, view those images and make up our own minds. In other circumstances, this could make us imagine that the skinzine contains images of UNIMAGINABLE HORROR, I suppose, but instead it’s more like a suggestion of “nothing to see here.”

I’m not completely sold on my own suggestion that an analysis of the feminist objections to Hustler would improve the movie. Storywise, it’s not certain that feminism ever posed a threat to, or otherwise impinged on the life of Mr. Flynt whatsoever. The movie also omits three of his marriages and five children, including the one who claims he sexually abused her. And in today’s climate, it’s easier to say he may well have done. Apart from the fact that most such accusations tend to be truthful, Flynt was, in his youth, obviously highly sexed and sexual, morally flexible, mentally somewhat unbalanced (not that any of that automatically makes you a rapist). He makes a good suspect. How does that suspicion make the film play? More uncomfortably, which may be a good thing. The movie is a little too sure of itself.

We have to factor in Forman’s Goyaesque side, too, even though he hadn’t made GOYA’S GHOSTS yet. In fairness, Flynt’s staffers are a carnivalesque bunch of freakazoids, with Forman fave Vincent Schiavelli vying with sleepy-eyed Crispin Glover for physiognomy first prize, but it’s the prosecutors attacking Flynt who get the really repulsive reaction shots. All this is complicated a bit more by Flynt’s own cameo as a biassed judge, his flat delivery and bulbous features making for a caricature that works against both himself and his opponents. The satirical laser bounces between two funhouse mirrors and ends up just making the room seem hot.

The tendency to slant things towards Flynt is maybe most apparent in the scene where Love’s character drowns in the bath — while Flynt is on the phone trying to get her more medical help for her AIDS and drug addiction. It’s a pat, inelegant construction in an otherwise very smart screenplay, because it seems to be trying to force sympathy out of us that we should be quite willing to give freely. I don’t know, maybe that’s exactly how it happened in real life, but real life can sometimes need a rewrite.

But! I’d missed the news that the guy who shot Flynt, paralysing him, had actually been caught and executed. And Flynt campaigned to save his life because he’s opposed to the death penalty. That is some serious Christian forgiveness from a proud atheist. (Maybe atheists are more Christian than the Christians? I can’t imagine Falwell doing that.)

 

The Sunday Intertitle: The March of Time

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2018 by dcairns

I wanted to say something about the great Milos Forman, who died the other day. And, as it happens, his RAGTIME begins with a silent newsreel and lots of intertitles.

RAGTIME is one of Forman’s great follies. He worked out early that American films had to have clear dramatic focus and conclusive endings in order to make it big with the public. But he’d occasionally find himself making films that hadn’t a prayer, because they were scattershot or their stories fizzled out in ambiguous, frustrating ways. These unloved movies are by no means inferior to his acclaimed, Oscar-winning masterpieces. They’re just less ingratiating. (And, looking at the endings of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and AMADEUS, we may have to redefine what we usually mean by “ingratiating” — but they’re very SATISFYING endings. Oh, GOYA’S GHOSTS was generally not liked by anyone except me and Fiona, and has an ending that redefines grim, but nobody could accuse it of being inconclusive. It’s an ending beyond which there can be nothing.)

Forman was also the king of bad timing. For every movie that somehow came along at the right time — CUCKOO’S NEST was a sixties novel that depicted a mental hospital decades out of time, but turned out to be a movie just right for the seventies, there would be a HAIR (NOBODY wanted to see a film about hippies in 1979, AND it didn’t have a plot — sure, more story than the stage musical, but still, no plot) or VALMONT, a version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that followed the Stephen Frears/Christopher Hampton adaptation by just a year (“Never make a movie somebody else has just made,” was the lesson the producer drew from that). But those are really good films, I’m SO glad Forman ignored his own sound financial instincts and made them, out of love.

RAGTIME itself has not one story but a bunch, so loosely connected that producer Dino De Laurentiis was able to excise one almost completely, over Forman’s passionate objections. But the real heart of the film is the story of Coalhouse Walker (Howard Rollins Jr.), who is playing piano alongside that newsreel at the start of the film. Original author E.L. Doctorow had basically just plagiarised Heinrich Von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas (also filmed by Volker Schloendorff) and transposed it to the early twentieth century. Doctorow called it “a quite deliberate hommage” and it’s true that the similarity of names shows he’s not hiding anything. But it’s not a passing nod of the head or tip of the hat — he’s nicked the whole story, the cheeky blighter.

Anyhow, Forman was moved by the story, as Kafka had been before him. It’s a tale of injustice, and injustice ALWAYS MOVES AN AUDIENCE. (“When a child says, ‘This isn’t fair!’ the child can be believed.” — A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.) Forman, having been born in Czechoslovakia with typically interesting timing, knew all about injustice. A man’s beautiful knew carriage and horses/jalopy is gratuitously trashed. He demands reparation. The authorities are weak or corrupt and simply tell him to go away. He won’t. Death and destruction follow. And a moral victory appearing from total ruination.

Baron Harkonnen is fire chief and Cody Jarrett is police chief in this town? We could be in trouble here.

There aren’t enough Milos Forman films. And yet, once you start listing the essential ones, you can’t stop until you’ve named them all.