Archive for the Politics Category

The Dope

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , on December 22, 2021 by dcairns

Still working our way through season three of Succession, which continues great. Every now and then a sense of burnout looms, what with all the characters being nasty pieces of work/shit, but then it reinvigorates itself miraculously — episode 5 was incredible. And episode 6 implies that the series could eventually get a bit serious. Already it has more actual politics than House of Cards ever did (grading on a curve, I know).

But Dopesick is maybe even better? I know one shouldn’t overvalue the serious and worthy at the expense of the wickedly funny — trust me, I know. But there’s also more good-quality film directing in Dopesick. The first two episodes are helmed by Barry Levinson. The performances are equally strong — Michael Keaton is doing the best work of his career.

There are moments when you think you know what’s coming — one episode has an explosion and a car crash, very traditional surprise elements — but they somehow tricked me into thinking it wasn’t coming, or was coming in a slow, unstartling way, and then they made me jump out of my seat. A scene later where Keaton’s character, a dope-addicted GP, performs a surgery while high had us cringing at high volume.

The use of music in both shows is exemplary. Nicholas Britell’s Succession theme has that rollicking operatic thing, and Dopesick seems to take a leaf from Chernobyl’s songbook — where Hildur Guðnadóttir’s music for the earlier series created the sound of radiation, creeping in everywhere and poisoning the atmosphere, Scotsman Lorne Balfe’s Dopesick music scores addiction, often present in a scene symbolically rather than literally — a boardroom decision that will spread the opioid plague will be accompanied by sounds of dread, disquiet, pulsing away underneath.

Blimpophobia

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on December 9, 2021 by dcairns

Cretinetti — actually French comic André Deed — gets married (to Tenniel Duchess Leonie Laporte) in 1915, and flies into a panic at the thought of air raids in LA PAURA DEGLI AEROMOBILI NEMICI (FEAR OF ENEMY AIRSHIPS).

Typical frantic clowning for the period, but with a curious premise. Fear of incendiary bombs isn’t irrational enough, during a global conflagration, to seem inherently silly. The British were indeed dropping thermite, though I’m not sure we were heavily into targeting civilian areas. We used biplanes over the enemy trenches. The Germans were chucking bombs loaded with oil and kerosene onto British coastal towns, but sort of half-heartedly. Later in the war, a plan to fly the new long-range zeppelins across the Atlantic and blitz New York was vetoed for fear of reprisals.

Cretinetti becomes maybe the first actor in film history to get comically entangled in a telephone cable (though I don’t know — maybe Ford Sterling, behind that shaky desk at the kop shop?) and sets about filling every available receptacle with water. Fortunately, he has huge fawcets that flare open like the mouths of the anthropomorphic winds on old maps, but unfortunately wicker hampers aren’t watertight. His top hat holds a reasonable number of litres though.

The wedding dinner is interrupted in Bunuelian fashion by the arrival of a dozen men delivering sandbags. When Cretinetti’s father-in-law, I presume, objects, it turns into a big sandbag fight. The action lacks smooth continuity, making me suspect it’s either been chopped down or bits have simply gone astray. But there’s some decent composition in depth, inaugurating the fine comic idea of a restrained bit of business going on close-up, while frenetic slapstick is played upstage. Well, I say “restrained,” but with Signore and Signora Cretinetti, such terms are relative.

Cinematographer Segundo de Chomon’s camera follows the lovebirds into the waterlogged boudoir — when slapstick enters the bedroom, love goes out the door — this is pretty racey stuff for 1915, the prospect of hardcore clown-on-clown action presumably helping make the audience nervous enough to giggle. We really don’t want to see this pair go at it. I feel I speak for all of us. Fortunately, there are plenty of basins of cold water precariously positioned to stop things heating up.

Some really GREAT pratfalling when Cretinetti gets each leg caught in a queer cylindrical canister and staggers among the buckets like a drunken robot. This happens just after the eight-minute mark, and everything from here on is very much worth seeing. Large-scale slapstick destruction — mass fainting — dramatic twists.

The final shot sees Segundo bringing on his purpose-built camera dolly — the first in the world! — for a unique usage. As Cretinetti is carried off to the front in a bin, to serve in an anti-aircraft unit (irony!) — his bin is mounted on the dolly so we can travel with him. The komedy karabinieri are meant to be carrying him, but they’re in fact labouring alongside while the grip, presumably, shoves us forward towards — THE FUTURE!

The Sunday Intertitle: Quite Wrong

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on December 5, 2021 by dcairns

I always misremember the start of BLITHE SPIRIT — I always imagine that the opening preamble is delivered as title cards, or as VO. In fact, it’s both. Which is a great idea. The title cards are replied to by the author himself, Noel Coward, who had one of the most distinctive voices in Britain. It’s like Cocteau’s handwriting, perfect for introducing one of his works.

“We are quite, QUITE wrong.”

Coward’s father was an unsuccessful piano salesman, so his fantastic posh voice, coming from somewhere behind his nose, was a concoction of his own.

I must find an excuse to introduce my students to him. The younger generation don’t generally know about him, and I’m pretty sure my nine Chinese students won’t have come across the works, let alone the persona.

Impressive that CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? managed to build a plot around his correspondence without having to shoehorn in unnecessary explanations of who he was, exactly. The Americans are good at smooth exposition, a lost art in Britain.

I wonder how Brits processed the Coward persona back in his day. He seems “obviously gay,” and I think this was probably recognized, but we just didn’t speak of it. You could be flamboyant yet discreet and it was sort of accepted. The acceptance was conditional on nobody being forced to acknowledge what they all knew. You can’t quite call it “tolerance.” Well, maybe tolerance of the unstated. As Wilde discovered to his cost — though he already knew it, too — if the love that dared not speak its name were forced to account for itself, the lover quickly found himself beyond the pale. “The don’t ask don’t tell” brigade demand to live in a state of low-key cognitive dissonance, and if their compartments break down they get very irate.

Noel’s skill at navigating these murky depths is evident in BLITHE SPIRIT’s script, which constantly escapes truly facing the scandalous implications of its concept. If there’s an afterlife, then widowers remarrying becomes bigamy. Sure, this movie is a fantasy, but pick at it and Heaven comes crashing down under the weight of its own contradictions. Or at any rate, we’re forced to revise our expectations of it to include the menage-a-trois and more. Or, I suppose, taking into account the “till death us do part” escape clause, we assume all vows are null up there, and a twice-widowed spouse could choose which, if any, of their former partners to remarry. Design for dying.

Interesting to see David Lean when he apparently had no interest in landscape. Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford, sublime) stands at the window and rhapsodises about the evening, but our director isn’t tempted to provide even a single illustrative cutaway.