Archive for the Television Category

A DD-Notice Situation

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by dcairns

We watched LIFEFORCE recently, to get me in the mood for my trip to London. With Fiona protesting that she’d rather watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or any of the, you know, GOOD Tobe Hooper films. Because the man had just died, and was this really the way he’d want to be remembered? But then, I bet he’d want to be remembered as more than JUST the director of TTCM.

I also read some good defences of the (arguably indefensible) film and that, coupled with the fact that, you know, the man had just died, made me sort of afraid to write about it, because I couldn’t really bring myself to say that the film is “good” — but at the same time, we had a hell of a good time watching it, so there’s that.

How do we parse this distinction between “good” and “a good time”? Are movies like women in ‘forties films? At any rate, much of what is hilarious and delightful in LIFEFORCE *could* be deliberate, which should lift the movie clean out of the “so bad it’s good” category. What makes my head go all Linda Blair is a feeling that even IF the ridiculous choices ARE purely intentional, they still seem crazy and impossible to defend on any normal grounds.What do I mean? Well, the story, adapted from Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby (INVADERS FROM MARS) deals with a naked space lady (Mathilda May) sucking the energy out of London’s masculine population. I think the idea of a monster movie where the monster is a naked girlie is kind of hilarious — as if they asked the question, What are teenage boys REALLY scared of? I think they could even have gotten away with the nude, but not a really busty nude. The film looks glorious — Alan Hume’s lovely lurid colours in anamorphic widescreen — but the shot of the menacing shadow of tits on the wall should arguably have been vetoed. Except no, because it’s perfectly in tune with the film’s demented tone. Hell, it exemplifies it.

(Colin Wilson was England’s top existentialist angry young man for a fortnight in the fifties — I don’t know what led him to write a Quatermass knock-off. I first encountered him during research for a Jack the Ripper project — he was a prominent ripperologist — but, as I discovered in my reading — he really didn’t know very much about the case, and much of what he claimed to know was wrong.)

Hard to explain the odd effect of the dialogue: apart from Steve Railsback, it’s a lovely cast of Brits, speaking in a pastiche of Britishness that seems at least ten years out of date. V FOR VENDETTA has a similarly timewarped quality, highly gigglesome. I don’t imagine it sounds so comical to Americans, because it’s not THAT off. It’s a good pastiche of Hammer horror dialogue, or maybe a tough crime drama with Stanley Baker.That cast — Frank Finlay is playing it quiet, well aware how close to looking ridiculous he is. He only loses it when he has to shout over a radio link, and his Shakespearean enunciation makes the whole thing rather Toast of London. Peter Firth is superb — full-on restrained camp. That thing when restraint becomes in itself a form of ham. And then there’s good old Michael Gothard, yielding sweatily to the temptations of the flesh just as he did in THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and THE DEVILS and…And Patrick Stewart! As if the second question they asked was What else will freak out teenage boys? and their answer was Homosexual Panic. Possessed by the naked space babe, Patrick turns on his sexual magnetism, and Railsback just can’t resist leaning in for a kiss. Hilarious to watch Firth and Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris dashing in to manfully prevent this same-sex violation of the norm, and then the room going poltergeistically haywire as the thwarted sex drive runs amok. (“CAN YOU IMAGINE how much fun Patrick Stewart would be having with a scene like that?” asked my host in London when I described it.)There’s more, so much more. The film is much less interested in its male vampires, but one of them does get to say to Firth, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.” Whoops and cheers.

There’s lots of impressive animatronic zombie-work, all cut SLIGHTLY too loose, spoiling the illusion, and lots of fun QUATERMASS AND THE PIT panic on the streets, and as I say, the film looks great. In fact, my host in London was taught at the NFTS by Alan Hume. “He called everyone darling, regardless of sex.” He was clearly the man for LIFEFORCE.And Frank Finlay’s finale is terrific — the film’s one genuinely great scene for which you don’t have to make apologies or suspend disbelief or try to wedge yourself into a previously unimagined tone encompassing camp and B-movie thickear, the knowing and the unknowing. A scene that would hold its own in a real Nigel Kneale script. And FFinlay, having held back so long, makes a perfectly judged decision to have fun with it, as he expires in a welter of bladder effects. Stirring stuff.

(This is arguably as inappropriate an homage to the late Mr. Finlay as it is to Hooper, but I watched him in Dennis Potter’s Casanova too so I’m covered on that score.)

So why can’t I give the film total respect? It does seem to know what it’s doing. I feel like a humourless critic at a Ken Russell film, recognising that he’s displaying a comedic attitude but unable to grant him permission because the precise timbre of his wit seems unacceptable. I love Ken Russell, I *can* accept his bizarre tonal combinations and jokes that seem designed not to get laughs but just to buffet the sensibilities. Maybe LIFEFORCE isn’t serious enough to get away with it? Maybe I should just bloody well RELAX? “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”

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Just think of BOB and JUDY

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , on September 6, 2017 by dcairns

Preliminary responses…

It’s like David Lynch wanted to give us a penultimate episode that’s pure Twin Peaks and a final episode that’s pure LOST HIGHWAY.

As with that 1997 “twenty-first century noir horror,” you get call-backs in lieu of closure — the names Chalfont and Tremont are significant and suggestive to TP regular viewers, but can serve only as an invitation to make up our own stories about what might be going on at the end of episode 18.

Do I wish there were more answers? Kinda. Audrey Horne’s storyline seems like a prolonged tease without a pay-off, which would matter so much if it were delightful in itself, but quite a bit of it was pretty well the opposite of delightful. It eventually became genuinely intriguing but then… no resolution. Though you might exercise your imagination by trying to connect Audrey’s last scene to the alternative world of the last episode… somehow.

Do I wish the resolution were happier? Yes. Although episode 17 gave us lots of the things we would hope for, episode 18 ended with Agent Cooper lost in another realm much as season 2 had. And we still don’t know How’s Annie?

How do I feel about all the throwaway fragments? Ashley Judd’s entire role… the roadhouse customers and their mini-soaps… the sick girl in the car… Some of them were genuinely crazy, unsettling, amazing scenes. Some of them weren’t. At the time of WILD AT HEART Lynch took to saying that he collected ideas for scenes on index cards, and once you had around 65 cards you had a movie. Not necessarily. WILD AT HEART was a book, first, and many of the bits in it that stem from the book are more satisfying than the bits that feel like interleaved index cards. But I think it’s worth accepting all these scenes, so we get the good ones.

How do I feel about the Twin Peaks story strands? Nadine and Norma and Big Ed added up to, well, not quite ba storyline, but a beautiful end to a story begun back in the original series. Shelly and Bobby and Red and Becky and Steven and Gersten gave us quite a number of terrific scenes but I couldn’t really say it added up to a satisfactory story at all. But if they ever made a series 4 that’s one of the things I’d be keenest to see more of. Ben & Jerry, fine, amusing. James ended up as a tagalong for Freddie Sykes, but that was fine. What a team.

Las Vegas? All that stuff was great fun, and came to a surprisingly satisfying resolution, allowing for about a million loose ends. A lot of those plot strands frayed away to nothing, but in amusing ways. Nothing to complain about there.

Buckhorn? The loose ends far outnumber the knotted ones here. What was going on with Matthew Lillard’s wife and why did Mr. C. shoot her? The caretaker at Ruth Davenport’s apartment building? Why was Dougie Jones’ wedding ring inside the Major’s torso, and why didn’t he have a miniature letter E under his fingernail? Amusing to note that the FBI achieve basically nothing in this show, apart from shooting a tulpa who would have been perfectly harmless if they’d left her alone. All their investigations lead them at last to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station where they arrive just in time to do… nothing. If they had just taken one look at Ruth Davenport’s head and the Major’s body and concluded, “We’re never going to figure THIS one out,” the result would have been the same.

I would have liked to see Joan Chen and Heather Graham — I particularly wondered how they could do without the character of Annie Blackburn. And it turns out she did leave kind of a hole, since we couldn’t just forget she’d been there. At times Frost & Lynch seemed to be trying to retcon her out of the history, but then they admitted she’d been there.

But I have to say — I will enjoy wondering about some of these mysteries. And Twin Peaks will be one of the main memories laid down for me by summer 2017. It actually slowed time down — a precious thing when one is nearing fifty. Both by durational tricks (take a bow, floor-sweeping guy!) and by making the weeks stretch out like Cooper’s face as it nears that big power socket, as we waited for the next exciting installment.

Fiona, on the other hand, is quite cross. But we still have to watch the last three episodes again (we’ve been watching everything twice) and she may come around.

When I complained about the lack of explanation at the end of Lost (yeah, we watched the whole thing), a very wise friend said, “Well, look at how crummy that show got whenever it tried to explain stuff. Did you really want more of THAT?” Mind you, the same friend insisted the makers had a clear, coherent plan all through those middle series when it turned out they were just winging it. Deduct ten points.

Audrey is the dreamer, it seems. Is her awakening in that white psych ward/UFO interior space linked to the “real” world Cooper finds himself in at show’s end? Audrey has been dreaming the roadhouse, it seems, but has she been dreaming the whole show? If so, it’s really smart that they finished her narrative three episodes early, so rather than being a corny “It was all a dream” cop-out, it becomes one more frustrating/intriguing element.

To the extent that non-diegetic info is admissible to help us understand an artwork, the fact that the “real” owner of the Palmer house we meet in the last scene is played b the REAL owner of that house in our reality does seem to suggest that Cooper/Richard has crossed over into OUR reality, or a version thereof: A world where the essentially Manichean character dynamics of Twin Peaks no longer function, where Cooper has some of the dead-eyed violence of his defeated doppelganger (it makes sense that he‘s somehow acquired the first name of his doppelganger‘s asshole son), where the new Laura Palmer has a sullen, slatternly quality and a chirrupy, girlish quality, and a murdered man in her front room… his arms raised off the armrests, recalling the recalling the uncanny standing, moving corpse in BLUE VELVET.

(Lynch was asked to comment on that guy in BV. “Well, the lab phoned. Normally they’re only supposed to phone if there’s something wrong with the negative. The wanted to know what was going on. Is he supposed to be dead? We see him moving!”)

Okay, a final theory. One of the many frustrations and bafflements is that Cooper receives instructions from the Fireman/Giant/???????, and seems to follow those instructions, but it’s not clear that the result is a good one. In fact, it MIGHT be — Laura is evidently remembering who she is at the end… but everything about the presentation makes this conclusion seem bleak, desolate, incomprehensibly and frightening. Why has Cooper ended up at this terrible outcome? He did as the Fireman advised.

Well, the Fireman isn’t like you and me. I think it’s possible he sincerely believed this ending would make Cooper happy.

Last Ciggie at Marienbad

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on September 1, 2017 by dcairns

So, yesterday I posted what I take to be Richard Lester’s MARIENBAD-inspired Grant’s Whiskey commercials, and WITHIN THE HOUR I get word on Facebook from Steven Otero — he has the L&M cigarettes ad Lester mentioned in his Sight & Sound interview with Joseph McBride, which is also a Resnais pastiche. Very much so, in fact!

Lester: “I made a rather odd L&M commercial. John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz and I each made one of a series.”

McBride: “What was yours like?”

Lester: “It was like Marienbad. Why they came to me I don’t know. They said they wanted something which was absolutely me and suggested something that was absolutely Resnais. But, eclectic to the end, I sort of pitched in.”

I guess that architectural plan way of looking at buildings DOES connect Resnais and Lester — the palace scenes in THREE MUSKETEERS, for instance.

I’m not sure Mr. Lester really wants all this stuff dug up. It was meant to be ephemeral.