Archive for the Science Category

Freud Vs Marx in the World Series of Love

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Painting, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by dcairns

THE LOCKET is best-remembered for its Russian dolls structure, with a flashback embedded in a flashback inside another flashback. Like INCEPTION, we go in, and in, and in, then out and out and out. But there are more pleasures than that, as any decent marital guide could tell you.

Director John Brahm was great at what animators call “extremes” — he could frame shots in such a way that the composition alone created a skewed, intense emotion — see this shot of Larraine Day, filmed from INSIDE her wedding veil. The ending of his version of THE LODGER seems composed almost entirely of extremes — Laird Cregar brought out the be(a)st in him.

Screenwriter Sheridan Gibney told Patrick McGilligan about writing this one, and being forced to compromise the ending by the Production Code. He wanted it to end with Larraine Day walking down the aisle with new hubbie Gene Raymond. The censors said she couldn’t, as she was a thief who had driven one man to madness and another to suicide. Gibney’s argument was that we didn’t know this — we have only Brian Aherne’s word for it, and he’s maybe mad… An interesting test case: the censor decided that crime must not pay, even when it’s only maybe crime and maybe never happened.

The IMDb lists blacklistee Norma Barzman as co-writer — Gibney didn’t mention her. But it’s tempting to see the two writers as embodying warring stances, the Freudian and Marxist influences on the script. Larraine Day is crazy, afflicted with kleptomaniacal compulsions caused by a traumatic incident in her childhood when she was unjustly accused of theft by nasty rich lady Katherine Emery (maybe the film’s best performance, and a character who’s horribly convincing because she’s so certain she’s in the right). This sequence is buried in the deepest flashback of the set, the primal scene/inciting incident at the heart of Day’s, and the film’s, psychosis.

The Figure in the Carpet is Mitch!

Surrounding this traumatic memory is the Robert Mitchum section, and he plays an artist with a chip on his shoulder about rich folks, so the theme is continued, but kind of reversed, since in this story the rich people are nice and Mitchum is wrong to mistrust them. Mitchum’s story ends with one of the film’s periodic plunges into delirium and hysteria, and this sets up a similar freak-out in the Brian Aherne narrative (do keep up). Aherne’s story is less obviously about class, though he does continued to insist he has no money. He’s a psychiatrist who goes off his trolley as his doubts about his spouse — Day again — eat away at his nerves. At the climax of his breakdown, the art theme from the Mitchum storyline and the madness one from Aherne’s collide, in the movie’s most psychedelic image —

Mitchum’s crap Dali knock-off of an eyeless Cassandra suddenly acquires eyes — Larraine Day’s eyes!

Whew! And then we emerge, gasping, back into the present tense, where Day is about to marry the wealthy Raymond, completing a climb up the social ladder, and it turns out she’s marrying into nasty Katherine Emery’s family. The “stolen” locket that started the whole thing off is now hers by right. But this triggers a mental collapse, signified by flashbacks appearing in the carpet — the film has been so overstuffed with embedded narratives that they’ve spilled out and are now seeping into the furniture. Having swithered* between a cod-Freudian view of the problem, a superstitious one — Day’s madness infects Aherne — and the class-centred argument that social injustice screws us all up — the film now finds mercy for its demoness, with Raymond deciding to stick by her until she can be cured, despite Emery’s aghast reaction (good to see she really is the horrible person she appeared as in Day’s own flashback — but with this beat, the movie closes the door on the possibility of any of our various narrators being unreliable).

The above probably doesn’t make a lick of sense to you if you haven’t seen the movie. So see the movie! What am I, your mother?

*Your lovely Scots word for the day.

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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.

 

Tomorrowsday #6: Ants Aren’t Gentlemen

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2018 by dcairns

a) CLUES

  1. Sugar
  2. No sign of theft.
  3. An abandoned pistol
  4.  Fragments of a doll’s forehead and dress.
  5. An unusual footprint.

Yes, since you ask, I have been watching Mark Kermode and Kim Newman’s TV series, Secrets of Cinema. It doesn’t have many actual secrets of the cinema, though, does it? It’s more about checklists of movie conventions, genre staples and narrative strategies. The only trouble with that is, genres live by their departure from the norm rather than merely their following of set conventions. So, in the episode on heists, so much emphasis was put on putting the team together that one-man jobs like THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR go unmentioned.

But the monster movie COULD profitably be analysed in terms of its conventions and their development, bearing in mind always that the more established these routines get, the greater the pressure becomes to break loose of them.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) uses the atom bomb as starting point for the first time. GODZILLA follows with almost indecent haste the following year.

And, the same year — THEM!

Though as a kid, monsters were my obsession — starting, maybe, with the prehistoric kind, but encompassing the Universal horror movies kind too, and with Dr. Who on TV as a reliable source also. Nearly all the films in the 1974 BBC sci-fi season had monsters (or robots) to enjoy, but THEM! was the only actual monster movie. It’s a good one to start with: I think it would still compel any seven-year-olds not prejudiced against black and white movies — and even then, it starts with a blast or lurid Eastman Color, which my family’s b&w TV wouldn’t have offered at the time ~

In the tradition of most subsequent monster movies, and indeed GODZILLA, the menace is introduced slowly with a series of clues. The traumatised kid is a particularly strong one, and I recall being fascinated by her. I don’t think I’d seen a character in shock before in a movie. (In real life, as a pupil of Parsons Green Primary School, I’d probably seen hundreds.) The ant footprint doesn’t look like anything much, and it’s a bit unlikely that its discovery would lead to the Doctors Medford being called in from the Department of Agriculture, when you think about it, but anything that brings Edmund Gwenn into a movie is not to be sneezed at, even if it’s a giant ant footprint deep enough to contain any amount of mucus,

b) THINGS I READ OFF THE SCREEN IN “THEM!”

  1. STATE POLICE
  2. CUBELETS
  3. TWIN PEAKS
  4. LOOK, JUST READ IT, OK?
  5. DITTO
  6. DITTO

The Twin Peaks one is striking. Though the image really recalls THE BIRDS, which is a similar, if more low-key monster movie, with a low-quality screwball comedy grafted on at the start to throw us off-balance (because genre films thrive on NOVELTY as well as repetition, dig?) I would bet Hitchcock saw this, since he seemed to see everything, and Edmund Gwenn was one of his favourite actors.

THEM!, with its storm drain climax, is very much HE WALKED BY NIGHT only with big ants, and HWBN is the movie that inspired TV’s Dragnet. What a different world it would be if Jack Webb had instead taken inspiration from this movie. The X-Files, thirty years early?

Monster movies tend to be detective stories/police procedurals, in a way, don’t they? Only we find out whodunnit way early, and the who is a what. And then the subduing of the perp is a lot more complicated.

ALIENS owes a lot to this one too.

The movie stars Brooks Hatlen, Santa Claus, Dr. Franz Edelmann, Davy Crockett and the Thing from Another World.

C) DEPARTURES FROM THE NORM

Though James Arness is a hulking he-man G-man, rumpled James Whitmore has a lot more screen time, and gets pincered to death saving little kids at the end (cue Wilhelm scream).

Though the dreaded “close-up of a bee” end (…OR IS IT) hasn’t been invented yet, at the moment of victory — before Romero, the authorities were generally competent and could be relied on to contain giant insect outbreaks — Joan Weldon asks the fatal question, “What about all the OTHER atomic bomvs we’ve set off? And Gwenn lets us have it — we don’t know what will happen, but we’ve OPENED A DOOR. A door into a new world… we’re now living in the Atomic Age, which is to say, science fiction, so we don’t know what will happen.

Though the authorities are generally competent and benign, when a man called Crotty (Fess Parker — as a kid I admired Disney’s Davey Crockett TV show, but I don’t know that I recognized its star here) is committed to a psych ward after reporting Unidentified Flying Giant Ants (the movie wisely never shows the big guys in flight), the heroes leave him in the loony bin so he doesn’t start a panic. He’s still there today.

Not a character arc in a car-full. Though Weldon, the notably tough lady scientist, who doesn’t take any crap from Arness about no girls being allowed in the giant ant nest, does put her hand tenderly on the wounded man in act 3, the movie is refreshingly free of romance, and the only other character development in sight is when people get mandibled to death.

Warner monster films quickly got stupid — I’m in awe of the sheer goofiness of THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE and RETURN OF THE FLY (aka ROTF, aka ROTFLMAO). But THEM! is surprisingly earnest, and manages to communicate that to the audience. Screenwriter Ted Sherdeman had been a staff officer for General MacArthur during the war. When he heard about the bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and threw up.” (As recounted in It Came From the Fifites! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.) He adapted the treatment by George Worthing Yates and poured his anxieties about the nuclear age into it.I never knew that extra-large marigolds were grown from irradiated seeds. I guess that’s maybe where the idea of nukes making things bigger came from. First ants, then spiders, then Glenn Langan.

From Wikipedia: “The sounds the giant ants emit in the film were the calls of Bird-voiced tree frogs mixed in with the calls of a wood thrush, hooded warbler and red-bellied woodpecker. It was recorded at Indian Island, Georgia, on April 11, 1947 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.” I love this. What should giant ants sound like? One does have to think outside the box. Crickets are the noisiest insects I can think off. Flies and bees, I guess. But everybody knows that ants don’t sound like crickets, flies, or bees. But you want to look for a sound that’s somehow in the same… genre.

(Kong was a lion, slowed down and played backwards. Dinosaurs have been voiced by elephants and cats, also in slow motion. Speed up the sound on ONE MILLION YEARS BC and its pretty funny. OK, it’s already pretty funny. But when the T-rex becomes an annoyed housecat, it’s something else. The sound is PERFECT at the right speed, mind you — but it’s hard to unhear the speeded-up version.)

Finally, credits: Gordon Douglas directed. He was disappointed that budgetary limitations prevented the film being shot in colour. The ants were a disgusting greenish-purple and “They scared the bejeezus out of you.” I think the b&w makes it — that and the location shooting, and that the ants are life-sized, physically present for the actors to react to, or blast with flame-throwers. Douglas wasn’t an FX specialist like Byron Haskin or someone, so it helped that he could approach the ants with the same blunt force professionalism he applied to everything.

The locations — featuring lots of big props like planes and trains — work with Sid Hickox’s monochrome photography to give it that hard-edged, realist, torn-from-the-headlines quality that was dominating the crime movie at this time. That’s worth any number of lurid ant hues. Douglas would be allowed colour for his next movie — YOUNG AT HEART. There’s one guy who wasn’t typecast.